Sunday, December 20, 2015

Be kind. Do well. Leave things better than you found them.

Every day. Everywhere You go, try to be kind. Try to do the best You can do. Try to leave things better than You found them. Not just at Christmastime, every day. Kindness goes a long way. Kindness relaxes a worried soul. Kindness heals a heart. Kindness rebalances the soul. Pause, look, listen & breathe out, and be kind every day. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet is Elegant yet Manically Energetic and Star Stunningly Brilliant!

We are all coal dust in the end, so we may as well enjoy life before it all goes to Hell and we kick the bucket full of coal. If there's any way y'all can catch female Director Lyndsey Turner's production of Hamlet at The Barbican, or soon to be in movie theaters world wide, do so!

Simply put, Benedict Cumberbatch is the Mick Jagger of actors. His indefatigable portrayal of Hamlet is magnanimously manic, amiable, delightfully funny with dignity, yet mercurial, morose and cruel. His strong diction is clear and as an added perk, the sonorous tonal quality of his voice is a God given gift. He is hard working, beautifully educated and infinitely experienced in theatre, but here's the difference that separates the 95% famous from the 5% infamous: Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely loves being up on that stage and adores his audience, just as Mick Jagger does, and this unspoken, unwritten charismatic quality, coupled with his immense talent, is the sugar fondant icing on the cake. It's the genius of the draw. It's the "Sprezzatura" we are all chasing in our own lives, right in front of us, on stage. We, the audience, are drawn in to Cumberbatch's natural ease of manner in and of the mere moment, we are drawn into his tornado of energy. Drawn into his soul he slams on the stage floor, in front of us, as the noble yet tortured Hamlet.

The second character in this Herculean production of Hamlet, is the old 'Grand Dame' mansion of a set. This antiquated, mildew colored green, generational "Plantation House" of Hamlet's family, stands silent and grandiose, and like a ghost, encompasses the entire stage and permeates the story throughout the play, symbolizing the external and internal disintegration of this outdated monarchical system, society and family.

The famous cast includes the wise and distinguished Karl Johnson, as the dignified ghost of Hamlet's Father, who, covered in grave dust, achingly warns young Hamlet of the sheer evil found in some families.

The commanding Ciaran Hinds is the former King's sociopathic, stern brother, Claudius, who has no conscience, and seeks out revenge at any cost, including an eternal existence in Hell.

Anastasia Hille pleasantly pleases us as a regal and gorgeous Gertrude, quaffed and elegant in 'Grace Kelly' fashion, just trying to survive in a man's world.

Jim Norton plays Polonius as the kindly Professor type, with love and hope for his daughter, and the unwavering, however unfortunate loyalty to the office of 'King'.

Surprising Sian Brooke as Ophelia was a treat to watch. She played Ophelia first as extremely virginal and timid, stayed and even a bit hard to hear at times. However, once driven mad, Ophelia's ticks and twerks were visible and audible as crazier than a rat in the out house. Great!!

Leo Bill as Horatio although nicely acted and animated, was very hard to hear and hard to understand, as he stood slouching over with his backpack, and was always standing askew to the audience.

Rudi Dharmalingam was delightful to watch on stage as a happy Guildenstern, and I hope we may be seeing more of this young, promising actor lit up with a wonderful stage presence.

Lastly but not least, Kobna Holbrook-Smith was a strong physical and metaphysical force as Laertes. Wow!

The costumes were partly period, sometimes modern hoodie, but always the actors wearing the clothes, never visa versa.

The melancholy, yet classic Cole Porter music enlightened and lightened the mood of the scenes, and the motion and choreography of the actors' movement was fluid and lovely, although the action on stage was mostly skewed stage right with its balcony and staircase.

The Dining Room table and chandelier were some of the favorite props, gorgeous in a decaying 'Land of the Landed Gentry' kind-of way, with dead animal 12 point deer antlers strewn all over the table top, and the fire of lit candles lining it's length. How else would any declining family dinner be complete without at least one family member vaulting themselves onto the top of the table, standing tall and pontificating during dinner.

The entire 3+ hour production went by in a flash. Although the Acts were very nicely timed, the one criticism many women have is the "only 20 minute intermission." A bit of an anxious rush for we girls. Not even time for a cocktail.

So, before we are all to be turned into coal dust, climb over the coal mounds, into Hamlet's world, where you can be very comfortably in your seat, and be entertained underneath and around the stars, in the grand style of thrilling live theatre, (or live streamed theatre), the stuff super stars are made of, from coal dust.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Practice being a Leader. Little decisions. Consistently. Every Day. Always.

We've all heard the saying: "Leaders make others feel special." So, what makes a positive leader others want to follow and how do leaders emerge?

Being the smartest, loudest or most aggressive person in the room does not make you a leader. Humility, and a combination of unspoken, unwritten skills such as empathy and confidence, with smarts and savvy help make a leader other people look up to.

Leaders make 1000 little decisions every day. Little decisions that add up over time to be a good thing. Being a leader does not mean instant gratification. Most leaders come to it over time. This process may seem boring to those quick fix seekers. Those who think they are going to win the lottery. The 'pie in the sky' crowd. How many leaders do you know who came to success, fortune or fame instantly?

Leaders know their own voice. They nicely say what others may be thinking. They speak the truth, but always diplomatically, trying their best not to insult others. They are brave and steady, which to some may seem, again, boring. Leaders have to be able to take criticisms from others and respond with calm. Leaders discern right from wrong. They make 1000 good decisions for themselves every day. They speak earnestly and have empathy for others.

Speaking the truth, even if it is spoken kindly and with empathy, is a hard decision. People don't like hearing the truth. They don't like it. Speaking the truth like a velvet hammer can be done, with practice. If the truth is too hard or harsh for the other person to hear, appropriateness of timing and subject matter must be taken into consideration. Speaking the truth does not mean you can say anything you want to anyone and it's OK, just because you said it nicely. Practice, practice and practice.

Some leaders can talk as fast as they can listen. Some leaders are simply quiet observers. Most are confident and have a content outlook on life. Happy leaders will attract others like themselves, a bit like a cheerleader. The rare natural leader has an easy "sprezzatura" of manner or charisma. They are comfortable in their own skin. They display a given confidence in a crowd, are kind, humble, giving, and sympathetically aware and appreciative of others.

So, be a leader through good little decisions. Consistently. Every day. Always.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

From Sparkle to Spackle

   The longer I sat by myself on my Dad's dented WWII trunk, the more desperately I wanted to disappear. All the other girls at camp had pretty new brass rimmed navy or forest green trunks with their pink or green script monograms on top. Although I was proud of it's history, my trunk had Dad's name, rank and serial number stamped in regimented white ink on top.
   As always, every August 8th, the camp bus dropped us off promptly at noon in the gravel parking lot of St. Simeon's School. Stepping off the bus into the hot Virginia air was like climbing into the inside of a dryer. Hazy and 99 degrees with 77% humidity. Sticky yuck.
   As I anxiously sat on top of the rusty trunk, I longingly watched the steady stream of station wagons parade by as my friends were picked up by their happy and hugging parents. After six weeks away, they were on their way home for a celebratory Sunday brunch or sweet tea on the porch. I nervously tried to relax, and quietly plastered a pleasant smile on my face, as I had seen my mother do many times when she was unhappy, which was often. Many of the other mothers, as well, had similar plaster smiles on their faces. The fathers seemed to have only closed lipped, slight smiles as they were busy loading the heavy trunks into the back of their station wagons.
   Yes, the FFV's (First Families of Virginia) taught their children to always look and speak pleasantly to others. Lovely social manners on the surface, but in this high society, if you were a nobody from nowhere or a transplant, and you or someone in your family had as much as a slight social faux pas, or public mishap, you were spoken about underneath every one's hot Virginia breath. I was slowly surpassing embarrassment heading into mortification. I knew if something bad had not happened to my parents, word was going to get around. Great. After the bankruptcy, just what my ridiculously small family did not need.
   I recognized my best friend's Kingswood Estate station wagon , the kind with the wooden paneling on the side, rounding the parking lot and I knew Carter Fairfax's entire family would be arriving to pick up her and her sister Taylor. Mr. Fairfax would be loading both their trunks into the back. Cute and tall Randolph Fairfax, my childhood crush, with his irresistible dimples and dark eyelashes, would be in the car too. Great. So, there I sat, helpless to do anything, hopeless without any family present, knowing there would be no room for my trunk in the back.
   Mrs. Fairfax kindly spoke to me in her high pitched and old Virginia accent and asked: "How are you Carolyn? Did you enjoy camp? Is your Mother coming to pick you up? Please tell her 'hello' for me." Embarrassed, all I could do was to stammer out: "Hey, Mrs. Fairfax. Yes. Carter and I had such fun. I guess Mom's just a bit late, but I will tell her 'hello' for you. Thank you." After Mr. Fairfax placed Carter and Taylor's trunk into the back of their wagon, he told me he would come back and drive through the parking lot just to make sure I was not still waiting. All I could choke out was: "Thank you so much, Mr. Fairfax." After the Fairfax family drove off, I was alone in the parking lot. Even the bus was gone.
   As I silently sat there with a sunken heart and gravel dust in my mouth, I thought about how to get home without help, so social tongues would not wag. I could try dragging my trunk the 1/4 mile home, but even as buckled and cracked the old sidewalks were, the neighbors, including our doctor and my piano teacher, would neither like the sight nor sound of me scratching up their sidewalks. I could risk leaving my trunk in the parking lot, with it's smashed up and broken lock, but could not risk loosing most of my clothes, I owned so few, and Mr. Fairfax might then return to an empty parking lot, and would be stuck lifting the trunk himself into the back of the station wagon.
   As I sat there, so very hot and sweaty at this point, and got thinking about how lucky our family was to have the Fairfax's as true friends. So many of the other country club set had in an unspoken way ostracized us, and in an unwritten way crossed my parents off the cocktail party list. Ditched cold. At 12 years old, what a momentous real life realization and "a-ha" moment that turned out to be for me. Right about then, I heard the distant crack of the gravel.
   Mr. Fairfax said nicely: "So, let's get you home." as we loaded the trunk into the back. With no radio on, and no chatting, the 1/4 mile drive home took forever plus two days. As Mr. Fairfax pulled the car up to the front walk, we both silently unloaded the trunk from the car, and carried it up to the porch. As happily as I could, I thanked Mr. Fairfax as he immediately and silently headed back to his car, waved, and drove off.
   Yet another great. So, there I stood on the old, wide front porch of the house we had to rent, the "poor house" as my Sister and I called it, a dilapidated Victorian house with good bones, but no air conditioning, one original oil heating grate, broken fireplaces, and holes in the thick plaster walls. Fallen from a childhood of ballet, tennis, tap, piano and horse riding lessons to an after school existence of helping my left-handed Mother, who taught me how to paint, wallpaper, plaster and sparkle. I had spent the last year trying to help around the house, doing the grocery shopping and cooking dinner, washing and drying dishes by hand, as we had no dishwasher, endless laundry and ironing, left-handed of course because this is the way the ironing board was set up, cleaning the house and all the yard work.  This beautiful old house was falling down around our heads. Without warning, patches of plaster in the upstairs hallway would come crashing down on top of our Old English Sheepdog, Muffin, sleeping in the upstairs hallway and on guard for us in the middle of the night.
    With the trunk safe on the porch, I opened the always open front door and called out: "Mom?" No answer. Walked into the kitchen. No one. Walked into the Den. My Father's desk, chair the couch and the color TV were gone, yet two chairs and the Persian rug my Mother had purchased remained.
   Up the front stairs, rounding the top into my parent's bedroom, I noticed only my mother's antique dressing table and rush chair but saw a turned up rug pad in the middle of the room, and nothing else. The king bed and wood paneled headboard were gone. I ventured into my little sister's room. She was probably playing at a friend's house as usual. Where in the world was everyone? Out of the side of my ear, I heard mom's 1959 portable AM radio playing a Barry Manilow song: "...and I'm ready to take a chance again, ready to put my love on the line..." I heard my mother's garbled alto voice singing softly along. What the heck?
   Peaking into the Guest Room, there was my Mom, laying on one of my great-grandmother's antique twin beds. She had her beloved peach leather colored, portable radio, with the matching handle, beside her, and a butter knife in her hands. Her right wrist was splotched with blood. I then smelled a waft of alcohol. Was my mother drunk? Yes, she took three fingers of bourbon to my father's two fingers, but she never drank during the day. Glancing at the Seth Thomas mantle clock on top of the old fireplace, it was 2:15 in the afternoon. What is happening?
   I gently coaxed the butter knife out of my mother's hand and dressed the surface wound on her wrist. She was still singing along to the radio. "I'm home mom," I quietly said. She smiled and said: "Your father and I filed for divorce." I replied: "When?" "Three weeks ago," she answered. Then smiled and closed her eyes.
   While mom slept, I began unpacking my clothes arm full by arm full from the trunk on the porch, and began the gargantuan task of washing an entire laundry room packed to the gills full of clothes  plus mine in the trunk. As mom slept into the evening, I fixed my little sister and myself a spaghetti dinner and turned on the evening news. President Nixon was resigning, but I was not. I decided right then and there I was going to grow up.

Submitted to Real Simple Magazine's 2014 "a-ha moment" 1500 word story contest.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Leaders Pause, Look and Listen to Anticipate Your Next Need, As Leaders Are Self Directed!

In the movie "The Devil Wears Prada," the Second Editorial Assistant, anticipates her Boss's next need by calling her boss's favorite restaurant ahead of time to make dinner reservations AND messengers her boss's dinner outfit to the restaurant ahead of time without having to be asked by her boss to do so. This new Second Assistant soon gets promoted to First Assistant and goes to Paris Fashion Week with her boss! How does she do it? How does she know what her boss wants next? How does anyone know another person's next need without having to ask?

Whether you work as an assistant to a magazine editor, are a student looking to win a college scholarship, work as a nurse in a doctor's office, or are a clerk in a Retail store, in order to get ahead and be considered for a promotion, you must learn to be self directed. Self direction is a very important marketable skill and does not seem to be formally taught in school.

Great leaders look ahead and anticipate the customer's next need. Leaders are self directed. How does a person learn self direction? Pause, look and listen. Pause, look and listen. Pause, look and listen. Got it?

Practice observing your surroundings and those around you. Practice empathizing with those around you. Practice not talking. Get to know your boss and customers or patients through careful observation, paying attention to their office decor, their likes, their dislikes, their habits, their moods, their fears. Make positive, sound decisions. Practice trying to please another person without having to be asked on a small task. Get them a cup of coffee the way they like it without having to be asked. If this is a success, perform a small task without having to be asked. Organize something small, for example files or the jewelry counter. Arrange something small, for example, the type of muffins, bagels, or boxed lunch for an office meeting you know your Boss will like.

Once small tasks are successful, move onto larger tasks. For example, in a Retail setting, if you do not have the item wanted by the customer in stock and cannot order it from your company, call around to competing stores to find the item. Send your customer to the competitor so they may have the item. In return, the customer will be so thrilled you found them the item they wanted, you will earn their trust forever! They will be loyal to you and will come to you every time they need any item and will count on you to deliver. They will also tell their friends to come to you because you get things done, tasks accomplished.

The same principal applies for medical recommendations. If your doctor's office cannot perform a certain service, as a medical assistant or nurse, recommend another doctor who may perform the service and send your patient to that office. Your patient will be eternally grateful to you for your thoughtfulness and effort. By satisfying your patients need, you will gain the long term trust of the patient, and they will come to you with all their needs for life as you have earned the patients trust and long term loyalty forever! Customer loyalty cannot be bought. It must be earned.

One fabulous yet simple example of anticipating another person's next need is when at a dinner table, you are asked to pass the salt. Do you only pass the salt as you were asked to do, or do you go one step further and pass the salt and pepper. Why would you pass both the salt and pepper when only asked for the salt?

The answer is, by passing both the salt and pepper, you are anticipating the other person's next need, by providing the other person with something they don't even know they might need. They may later decide they want the pepper, and there it is. They don't have to interrupt anyone or wait for any  conversation too end to have the pepper. You have made it easier for the other person because you have do not have successfully anticipated their next need!

 The current trend for college scholarships is to invite 30 students, all competing for the same one scholarship to a luncheon. Students asked to pass only the salt, who pass only the salt do NOT get the scholarship.

People who pass both the salt and pepper when asked to pass only the salt are correctly anticipating the other person's next need and move on to the next level of competition.

Employers are looking for self directed employees. Bosses are not there to hold your hand while babysitting. They are there to check in on your performance. The employee who is self directed will be the future employee who will end up promoted to Office Manager, Retail Manager, CEO.

In conclusion, pause, look and listen to anticipate some one's next need and practice with your good intuition to solve the problem some one may not know they have!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Manners Matter

Manners may no longer say where you belong, 

but they still say who you are,

 and where you have been.


Good manners will take you everywhere you would like to go!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year's Resolution: Be a Super Leader and Learn to Take the Criticisms!

Want a Resolution for 2015 and every year for the rest of your life?

Here at The Sabot School of Etiquette, we always say: "Leaders make others feel special." Eleanor Roosevelt vary famously said: "You teach others how to treat you." Leaders teach other people how to treat them, which is why some leaders are mediocre leaders, and some are super!

That being said, however, be aware that with leadership comes the stress and pressure of popularity, easy accessibility to others, group, school, community or national notoriety, and a responsibility to behave properly always.

Yes, we said there is pressure and stress to be a leader. It's just a higher level of daily stress to get used to. Leaders are problem solvers. They are kind and quiet. They look other people directly in the eyes and listen. Leaders are empathetic to others' situations, give well thought out statements and opinions calmly and wisely. Leaders are true to their own convictions. They try very hard to never make another person feel badly. Once you acclimate yourself to these higher stresses and pressures, and adjust your attitude accordingly, you can relax a bit until the insults and confrontations start. Then, there is much more work to be done getting used to that side of the coin that comes with leadership.

Written confrontations are always easy. Plenty of time to think about and write a positive reply. But remember, anything written down on paper and especially typed on the Internet, including all "private" E-mails and the "Public Babble Page" Facebook, are forever public domain.

Verbal confrontations require Diplomatic skills. It is said that a Diplomat does nothing and says nothing nicely. Making a little joke, or self deprecation works well when dealing with folks who want to tell you how to lead, or hostile hecklers. Clever puns and positive quick quips work well too. Dealing with a heckler takes practice. Have some general retorts at the ready and keep on smiling in your soul.

Dealing with the aftermath of all the criticisms once you get home to the peace and quiet takes practice also. Letting your anger go, coming to the realization that no one asks a question unless they already know the answer. Questions are people's way of showing what they know. Bullies always have to put others down to make themselves feel better, then they take the cowardly way out. So, don't fret too much about bullies. They are just unhappy people.  

Your strength as a leader will spur other people on to be strong. No one wants to be around a negative person. Everyone wants to be around someone who is positive yet humble, always deferring to others, letting others run the conversation and talk, thus, making other people feel special.