Life is Good

Last week I got an email from a colleague asking if I still taught my writing class for marketers. As you may know, I was a marketing consultant in the construction industry for nearly 30 years, so I sometimes still get these inquiries. I must admit, they are a bit of an ego boost.

A few days after that email, I got an email from a friend who wanted to know if I had some time to talk to her about a re-branding project she’s working on for an engineering firm. Jokingly she asked if I had a few minutes to chat…that is, if I wasn’t too busy “gallivanting” in my retirement. [Great word, gallivant. It means to “go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment.”]

It just so happens that I read that e-mail while on a bus in between a tour of the Walnut Grove Plantation in Spartanburg, SC and a visit to Kornerstone Farms, a sustainable, multi-generational farm in Woodruff, SC, where the family’s eight children took us around introducing us to their chickens, milking goats, pigs, dogs and beehives.

In the evening I wrote back to my friend. “Well, as it turns out I was on a day trip today to the Walnut Grove plantation. Does tomorrow around 10:00 am work for you? Lunch with the garden club president at 11:30. Honest…I’m not making this stuff up.”

As soon as I acknowledged that I had, indeed, been “gallivanting” and wrote what I was up to, I realized it sounded… well…a bit make believe. And get this…after I sent the e-mail I went back to reading The Secret of Red Gate Farm, a first edition Nancy Drew mystery that my friend, Nina, sent me for my birthday. Am I having too much fun? Can you have too much fun?

A few weeks ago, when I was walking the dog, I met up with a man whom I see walking my condo complex regularly. We greeted one another and I asked, “How are you today?” His reply: “Living the dream every day.” I’m fairly certain he meant that ironically, but I have to say, that’s how I feel most days. Don’t get me wrong. Even a cock-eyed optimist like me gets the blues some days. But overall I have been blessed with little patience for self-pity and a remarkable ability to snap out of the doldrums, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve stopped watching the news. I used to be a news junkie, but no more. The media is saturated with murders, robberies, terrorist attacks and car crashes and I just can’t bear to watch a daily summary of all the bad things that happen. I do still read the newspaper, and while the paper reports on the same awful occurrences, I can scan the headlines and move on to the human interest stories I prefer. Somehow I always manage to find some newsworthy gem that really tickles me and restores my faith in humanity.

Last week I was drawn to a brief item with this caption: “Father, Son in Custody After Kidnapping Plot”. A 51-year old father and his 22-year old son lured a woman and her four teenage daughters to a house in Centerville, Utah where they tied them up in the basement. Their plans were thwarted when “they were overpowered by the women they abducted.” The men are now in custody and facing felony charges following the botched kidnapping plot. Now if that story doesn’t brighten your day just a bit, I don’t know what will.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

Yesterday I shared on Facebook a little known 9/11 story about how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland helped 53 planeloads of travelers who were re-routed and stranded there for two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The townspeople rallied to house, feed and take care of everyone during those horrendous two days when the world stood still. In return, the travelers created a trust fund to provide scholarships for the students of Gander to repay them for their generosity of spirit in a time of need.

Now you can call me a Pollyanna and focus on the “bad” news if you choose to, but I’m going to keep on gallivanting, living the dream, looking for examples of our shared humanity and stories that demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit…proof that life is good. Are you with me?

Life Lessons from a Yo-Yo

On Saturday I received a phone call from a friend and business colleague whom I’ve known for years, but whom I haven’t spoken to in a quite a while.  Lisa only recently learned I had moved to South Carolina, visited my blog and called to catch up and reminisce.  As we were about to hang up, I remembered to tell her that I still had, in a prominent spot on my bookcase, the yo-yo she had given me many years ago.  I could hear her smile at the other end of the phone line as she said she was happy to know that.

You may be asking yourself a few questions right now?  Why would one business colleague, particularly a woman, give another business woman a yo-yo?  A yo-yo is a child’s toy after all.  And why would the memory give both of us pleasure now?

Well, I met Lisa back in the 1990’s when she signed up for a 10-week Marketing Basics class I was teaching through the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).  In the class on Trade Shows and Conferences I explained how important it was to have something in your display booth, like a give-away key chain or pen with the company logo, or even a simple bowl of candy, that would draw people over to your booth and facilitate the start of a conversation.

Next, I told the class the story of my first trade show.  The engineering firm I worked for at the time had purchased an exhibit booth at a Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) conference.  Before I go any further, just in case you’ve never met an engineer, let me ask you a question.  Do you know how to tell an engineer who’s an introvert from an engineer who’s an extrovert?  Answer:  the extrovert looks at your shoes when he talks to you.  Now, I’m not trying to be mean, because I love engineers.  Really, I do.  They are the most logical, fair-minded and honest people I’ve ever met.  But they are conservative in every way, spend most of their lives avoiding the spotlight and would rather slide down a razor blade than make a spectacle of themselves.  Now, imagine engineers designing a tradeshow display booth.

My boss bought our first display system which consisted of square black felt panels that snapped onto metal poles anchored into round metal disks…think High School Science Fair.  Next, he selected the photos for the display.  Most were pictures from our brochure…none bigger than 8 x 10…pasted on foam board and framed with gray mats.  You could just about see the photos and you couldn’t read the captions from the other side of the tradeshow table. The most modern thing we used in our display was Velcro to attach the photos to the felt boards.  My giveaways?  Business cards of the engineers attending the conference with me and twenty 1-1/2” thick, spiral bound brochures, most of which I packed and took back home with me because no one wanted them…too heavy to carry around the tradeshow…too bulky to pack and take on a plane.

I found this photo in an old photo album. The display you see here is actually an improvement over the first one.

I found this photo in an old photo album. The display you see here is actually an improvement over the first one.

The next year I was again asked to organize the firm’s participation at the SAME conference.  My experience the previous year had taught me that our display unit was outdated, but since state-of-the-art pop up units were expensive, I knew I was stuck with what we already had.  I suggested that we get pens with the company name and logo to take as giveaways.  My boss’s eyes widened. He looked horrified at the suggestion.  This, after all, was The Society of American Military Engineers conference.  What would they think of such crass commercialism?  We were engineers, not used-car salesmen.

I did manage to convince him that we should order much larger professional quality photographs for the boards, and I created lightweight, single-sheet, tri-fold summary pamphlets to replace the spiral-bound brochures.  At that point in my career,  I had finally learned to pick my battles wisely.  Clandestinely, I packed a basket, and once I got to the show I bought several pounds of chocolate candy  that I used to lure people over to my booth.

“Hey, what about the yo-yo?” you’re probably wondering.  Well, here’s the yo-yo part of the story.  That year at the conference there was an engineering company three booths down from me.  They had military engineers at their booth non-stop during the show.  What were they giving away?  Yo-yos.  What fun it was watching these distinguished men in uniform demonstrating their prowess with these little-boy toys!  They were having a ball, and they lingered around that booth talking to the company representatives longer than usual…an exhibitor’s dream.

IMG_0417The last day of my Marketing Basics class, Lisa came up to me to say good-bye and handed me a wrapped gift. Imagine my delight when I opened it and found a Yomega High Performance Fireball Yo-Yo. The yo-yo stood upright, nested in a red velvet base inside a hard plastic display box. To this day, I keep that yo-yo on my bookshelf . Lisa’s phone call after all these years, like that yo-yo, reminds me that connecting with people on a human level is not just what matters in marketing, but what really matters in life.

What I Know for Sure

I have a very dear friend named Sofi.  I’ve known her for more than twenty years.  We met on the train to New York.  Back then we both commuted to NYC daily.   When we met, Sofi’s daughter, Nazneen, was probably only eight years old and her son, Faizaan, had not been born yet.  Nazneen has since graduated from college and graduate school and is now married and teaching at an all-girl Charter school in the Bronx. Faizaan is in his third year of college studying Nursing and a member of the Army ROTC.  They both call me Aunt Sally.

Born in India, a Hindu country, Sofi is Muslim.  I was raised Catholic.  We never really talked about religion.  I remember she fasted prior to Ramadan, but that’s as close as we ever got to discussing religious practices. On our daily commute, we mostly shared complaints about work and discussed whatever was going on with our families and friends.

Every year Sofi brought Nazneen and Faizaan to my Christmas Tree Trim Party.  They joyfully helped decorate the tree.  I can still remember a 3 or 4-year old Faizaan squealing gleefully as he threw fake snow at the tree branches.  Aside from not eating my baked ham, they participated fully in my holiday traditions.  And every year, one of the first Christmas cards I receive is from Sofi.

When Nazneen got married a few years ago, I was invited to the pre-wedding party for women only.  It was a very rainy day, but that did not affect the festive atmosphere within the enormous tent set up for the party.  I recall the brightly colored pillows that adorned the center “stage” area, and the many beautifully wrapped gifts.  Nazneen was dressed in a rich, yellow outfit with red trim and the women took turns feeding her from dishes of specially prepared treats, wishing her all the best in her marriage.  A Mehendi artist had painted an intricate pattern of beautiful henna designs on Nazneen’s hands and feet.  And there was music and dancing.  The young women clad in their gorgeous saris took turns on the dance floor.  It was quite magical.

A few days later, I went to the wedding…the first Muslim religious ceremony I’d ever attended. Similar to every other wedding I’ve been to, there were prayers.  What I remember most, however, was the Moun Dikhai Ritual.  Once the marriage was solemnized, the bride and groom sat beside one another, and the groom got to see his bride, who had been veiled up to this point, through a mirror.  There was something very sweet about that moment.  Afterward there was food…lots of food, speeches, celebrating.  Family had traveled from all over the world to attend the event.  It was quite wonderful.

When I first met Sofi, she didn’t wear a veil, but she started to wear one a few years ago.  Funny, but we never discussed that either. I actually learned about the religious beliefs behind “hijab”, or the wearing of the veil when I taught at Montclair State University. The reader I used included an enlightening essay by a Muslim student explaining that the notion that wearing a veil is oppressive and degrading to women is a misunderstanding of the practice.  She stated that for Muslim women the veil is a means of achieving the Islamic ideals of honor, modesty, and stability.  My favorite line in that essay is “Americans share these ideals, yet fail to recognize them in the context of a different culture.”

In light of world events over the past two weeks, I am profoundly grateful that what I know for sure about Muslims is what I learned from Sofi and that student essay.

coexist