Genuine: The Effort Involved In Learning To Be You and Me #atozchallenge

G: Today’s Deb-Blog Has Been Brought to You by the Letter D for Discovery of Self and the Letter G for Genuine: The Effort Involved In Learning To Be You and Me

Oh sure, Marlo Thomas, I get how important it is to be genuine and to accept others, in kind. I also get it’s easier said than done outside the lovely, Utopian, “Free To Be You and Me” message. In truth, there is nothing more important and nothing more difficult than being genuine, being one’s true self. It’s a lifelong process. And we change and evolve within our world, our time, our experiences, our intellect and with the tools we possess. Accepting everyone for who they are is a beautiful way to start childhood. But adult reality and even most childhoods encounter plenty of obstacles to being “free to be me.”

My decade-long hiatus from employment, while Dad was with me, left me changed in unimaginable ways. I was no longer the person I was before that fateful morning a police officer retrieved me at four a.m., informing me Mom had passed. And I’m still trying to figure out my life and my future. But the non-profit manager role certainly didn’t give me joy or offer me any valuable creative outlet, anymore. Maybe working for a dysfunctional employer right after Dad passed didn’t help. But maybe it was a gift. You see, sometimes chiseling away society’s labels and slipping out of the pigeon holes that we were pushed into along the way is the way to self discovery. And that job was rife with pigeon holed people. Yikes!

During those years with Dad I designed and nearly single-handedly built a second addition to my house. I wanted Dad to have more sunny space and adding equity would mitigate no income a bit. (I’m a saver and paid cash.) Of course, Dad and I shared a love for politics and social issues and I was afforded the time to volunteer for Democratic (and democratic) campaigns and causes. And I returned to my communication strengths. 

Here’s the thing many don’t consider when you are a stay-at-home daughter, verses a stay-at-home mom or dad raising a child to independence; You don’t know when graduation comes. And you don’t get society’s praise for the person in your care because yours is no longer in the world. You’re just alone. Very alone. Besides this experience changes you but even without this major life event. the world changes a lot in ten years.

Lately, I’ve been recalling who I was as a four, five and eight year old, before most of us get labeled. G Growth Development FeatureRediscovering what inspired me as a child, where I was drawn and what was drawn to me gives me a sense of calm, and it feels real to the core. And when coupled with wisdom from life’s experiences, I like the connection. I’m grateful. It means I am better able to give my best to the world, for what it’s worth.

I read this quote by Alfa (Alfawrites) a few weeks ago and heard my mom.

“You are going to meet people who are intimidated by you. You’re different. People don’t know how to react or how to accept people who don’t follow the crowd…They are not used to someone who doesn’t fit in — so instead of bolstering your uniqueness, they’ll try and make you feel like you’re weird or damaged. I’m here to offer some well- earned advice: Screw them.”

Please note, my mother would never use the words, “screw them.” But the first part, “[P]eople…are intimidated by you. People don’t know how to react to you,” is what Mom would say as I encountered hostile and unexpected obstacles and interactions. And she wasn’t one for empty praise. She saw me for who I was. She saw it even if I was trying like hell to blend. As a kid – especially an adolescent – you don’t want to stick out, or at least I didn’t. In hindsight, I wish I had been brave enough to develop that part of me that was there at eight or even fifteen and that endures to this day. Instead, I focused on how to be more like my peers. When my high school adviser informed me of my exceptionally high I.Q. score (which I feel icky even writing here), I think I told my mom but never told anyone else. 

Maybe other only children can relate, but you can learn a whole lot by observing the world and it all leads to questioning why a whole lot more than those with siblings. I’d quietly study everyone at weddings or any large get-togethers, learning from the pack and observing social norms and practices. Maybe I noticed the absurdity in many of these social stages and, intellectually, I had a disconnect leading me to march to the beat of my own drum.

A lot of it is figuring out where you don’t fit, through rejection, criticism and that visceral feeling like your an oyster in the shell being irritated by sand. One moment while I flashback to past friendships, relationships and jobs. Ah, but that discomfort is critical to becoming.

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So Long, My Sexy, Sixties’ Time Capsule: An Homage to “Mad Men”

Attention: Spoilers are rampant!!!! Having just seen the last three episodes this week, I now can read reviews and posts on the show. But I was broadsided the morning after the finale aired with a spoiler about January Jones’ character, Betty Draper-Francis, and I don’t want to be the cause of spoiling this delicious series for you.

The sixties went by in beautiful style, color, passion, turmoil and with rich, perfectly flawed characters through seven seasons of Mad Men, one of my favorite shows of all time. First, I owe props to my friend, Terry, for first introducing me to the show. AMC had a marathon one Sunday and the first episode I saw was “Marriage of Figaro,” Season I Episode 3, one of its episodes with more suburban scenes than Madison Avenue. I was designing an addition to my mid-century rambler at the time and became inspired by their family room. That first hook of its beauty and authentic attention to every detail became my constant focus, but the story and character development made it true love. Besides the absolute beauty of the series, I am left with two lasting impressions; the significance today of the social changes of that era and how a decade of life can transform a person and lead to personal truth.

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Certainly, Jon Hamm’s Don Draper, or Dick Whitman, is the most iconic Mad Men character. He is brilliant, skilled, self-made, complex, well-rounded, generous, resilient, rooted and a true friend. I’d say he’s even honest, but for the identity theft and infidelity because those choices were about survival, social expectations and a drive to “find himself,” as they said back then. Don Draper represents the culture at large and everyone who learned the new, post-WWII world, conquered it and adapted to the future. Don emerged from a lavish, boundless, bourbon-soaked decade with a truer sense of self or the new self he will define. His lesson is that modeling society’s measure of the pinnacle of success only matters to those who don’t matter, and does not measure self-awareness or contentment. And that lesson is not unique to the 1960s.

The women of Mad Men

It is fitting to the era that the characters who evolved the most were the women, collectively and individually. We saw the 1960 suburban neighbors ostracize Helen Bishop, the “gay divorcee,” and by gay I mean carefree, tempting and promiscuous. But by 1970, divorced Joan Holloway-Harris is free to plot her own path, unconcerned about judgment or scorn. Of course, Sterling’s trust fund for the kid and a nice $250K nest egg helps. But Joan is smart and business savvy, having kept Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price intact several times. Trudy Campbell isn’t treated like Helen Bishop, either, as a suburban divorcee. The Betty Draper of 1960 who appeared to struggle with how to handle a door-to-door salesman is not the same Betty Draper-Frances enrolled in college in 1970, Megan Draper is independently pursuing her acting career and even waitress Diana Baur doesn’t need Don, or any man.

We watched the birth of feminism and the sexual revolution, the latter of which Don Draper may have ushered in, single-handedly. But Don never used a woman, in my opinion. He met each of his encouMadMenFinaleDraper2nters on equal footing. Putting aside his secretly advising his wife’s psychiatrist, he was a feminist by 1960s’ standards, and even the Don Draper of 1970 wouldn’t think of interjecting himself into his wife’s therapy. He projected his own independence upon the women in his life. And nowhere is this more evident than in his relationship with Peggy Olson.

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Peggy Olson in 1960 appears disgusted by her weight gain.

Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy Olson is our heroine. Peggy went from an innocent, naive girl from the steno pool who had no clue she was pregnant, to a fearless, self-aware and successful woman, loved by those who know her best. It is nothing short of a metamorphosis to evolve from the quiet, obedient girl trying to figure out how to market the Relax-A-Cizor to the sunglasses-wearing, cigarette dangling, strutting broad carrying Bert Cooper’s painting of inter-species coitus between octopus and female under her arm. How symbolic can you get? She adapted, she was diligent and she represents our gender’s trail blazers.

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A weekend work marathon and Peggy is just one of the boys, who will be boys.

Peggy is brilliant, but limited gender opportunities and family resources provide few paths, contrasted with Pete Campbell who comes from “old money,” attended Dartmouth and achieved his job through social connections. Peggy starts out as a secretary, one of a handful of options for women, but through ambition, keen observations and raw talent, Peggy rises professionally. Pete and Peggy’s early interaction provides the perfect backdrop for the story’s realistic conclusions. Real life. (Although I found the Stan and Peggy phone call in the final episode a bit forced and only tolerable because two skilled actors were reading the lines.)

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Damn, girl. You own that bad self! Peggy in 1970.

There were so many cringe-worthy, relatable scenes for me watching men make women feel awkward. Indeed, being a straight, white, male WASP had its strong advantages then – and now. Most of the non-conforming characters were faded from view by the end of the series, although the portrayals of those struggling to fit in a button-down world linger. Remember Sal Romano (Italian-American and gay), Michael Ginsberg (Jewish and an immigrant), Guy MacKendrick (who became disabled) or Dawn Chambers (their token African-American secretary)? All had to find their own way without the help of the white man’s world, that’s for sure.

It makes sense these characters faded from view because in the 1960s, society didn’t want to consider diversity or deal with any social or personal introspection. Mad Men gave us a glimpse into that world. It made me wonder if that’s how they managed the memories of World War II, The Depression and personal matters that then held personal shame. “This never happened,” wasn’t just a halting remark by Peggy to Pete or Don to Peggy, it was a way of life. Foolish by today’s society. But a strength we have lost.

I often imagined how these cultural archetypes would be in the 1980s, 1990s or even today. Who would have been that Joan Holloway, Peggy Olson, Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Roger Sterling, Sally or Betty Draper of their future? I hope they do a “Return to Mad Men” in ten years to show the future for these people. I imagine Don in California’s technology funding PC or Apple, or the DeLorean’s greatest competitor, the Draper. Or he’s living and loving in Paris, where he wanted to go with Rachael.

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