There are lots of things to think about.


Great Book: Where’d you go Bernadette?

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Where’d You Go Bernadette is a great read by Maria Semple.  Maria has written other books including one other fictional book: This One Is Mine.  She has also written for TV shows including Arrested Development, Ellen and Mad About You.  I saw part of the first episode of Arrested Development and I have decided that it will be the next sitcom that I catch up on, once I have run out of one of the 6 that I am watching now. Admittedly I am on my second run through of Boston Legal, but to be fair, it only ran for 5 seasons.  I am on season 5 of Mad Men and I am hoping that some of season 6 will be available before I have run out of season five.  If not: well here comes Arrested Development.  I thought Arrested Development was a very funny somewhat wacky satire, with a mix of unlikely, yet winning characters.  somewhat like the characters in Pride and Prejudice and Boston Legal, and Niles Crane in Frasier.  They are somewhat exaggerated, but not too far out, and in an odd way extremely likable.  That combination makes great satire.

And Where’d You Go Bernadette is very much like that.  Very funny, odd situations, but recognizable.

I am not sure that Bernadette is the main character, perhaps it is Bee, her brilliant and very giving, kind daughter.  Bernadette was an acclaimed architect, a professional who could not follow the traditional rules, and was able for a while to make her own.  She left the traditional architecture firms to do her work her own way, and created such unusual buildings that she won a McArthur grant.  However, her personality was so hypersensitive, that she had to retreat into unlikely places.

Her marriage was surprisingly traditional except for her choice of a living space.  The family consists of Bernadette, her husband, Elgin, who works at Microsoft, and Bee, their daughter who attends a local private school.

By the way the book provides some really fun insights about work at Microsoft.  True or not, they are amusing and enviable.

Bernadette finds life to be overwhelming.  She retreats from normal work by taking on projects such as her housing that is falling apart.  She retreats from interactions with Bee’s school by removing herself from their email list.  She retreats from normal interactions with the business world by hiring an “assistant” from India to manage daily transactions and bill paying.

When her husband and others who are concerned about her believe her to be mentally ill, Bernadette withdraws again, but this time to Antarctica.  The rest of the story is about Bee’s determination to find her mother.

Because Bee’s experience was that her mother was there.  In the hospital while she underwent many heart surgeries, at her meals at night, at her school, to pick her up, always there for Bee in spirit and in interest, even when Bee wanted some withdrawal of her own.

So when Bernadette finds the reality overwhelming, and really leaves, Bee is horrified, sad, lonely, and frantic to find her mother.  The story explores the varieties and tragedies of mother love and father love, from the child’s perspective as well as from the adult perspective. And it does this in Antarctica, with its brilliant light, piercing cold, and otherworldly ambience.  And does this while being extremely funny, very sad, and so real.  This combination doesn’t seem to be possible, but gosh, it is.

Read this book:  “Where’d you go Bernadette” **** (The four stars reflect the quality of the book.  I just finished Ruth Reichl’s book “Garlic and Sapphires” about her expereinces as a food critic for the New York Times.  that was another good read, but can wait for another post.

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What is your brand?

Last weekend, I was at a graduation ceremony for my niece who received her MBA.  This was a really good event, with a respectful admiration for all of their graduates.  I was interested in the comments of the commencement speaker, Mr. Harry Campbell.  Mr Campbell has worked for years as a brand manager for Proctor and Gamble among other executive positions.  He has recently published a book called Get-Real Leadership.

At the graduation, Mr. Campbell spoke about Self branding.  He raised the issue of what it means to be a brand, and asked us to identify our own brand.

What does a brand mean?  A brand is a product with a strong identification.  When a brand is seen we know what it is.  When we buy Kleenex, we know what we are getting.   A brand is reliable: Kleenex is Kleenex, it doesn’t change from one box to the next, although the packaging may change.  A good brand builds confidence.  A good brand stands behind its name.

So, the challenge that Harry Campbell gave to the graduates and to the audience was: “What is your brand?”  Can you describe your brand, your identity, what it is that makes you you day after day?  When people see you or know you, what are they getting?  Who are you?  in 7 words.

Yes, describe yourself in seven words.  What is your brand?

I found this challenge to be instantly interesting.  We move around through our lives, thinking we are reacting to the many things that happen to us, and responding to the people and animals and other things that we encounter, but how often do we take the time to decide who we are, and to simplify that identification so that we can describe ourselves with seven strong words?  How do we choose seven strong words that describe our brand?

This will take some thought, lots of ideas will come to mind, many will be discarded.  100 words to describe me would be easy.  But 7?  Which 7 are the best?  Mr. Campbell suggested that we think this through ourselves, then ask some of the people who know us well to identify our brand.  He did warn us that when we get the results from other people there will be one work that we will hate, and one word that we will want to deny.  “That’s not me!  That person doesn’t know what he/she is talking about!  Where did that idea even come from? OMG!!”  

So to the challenge.  Once a student was taking a make up exam and she took it in my home, in the dining room.  She looked around and stated that I was about information.  It immediately sounded right to me and since then I have always identified myself as a person who is about information.  So that is one part of my brand.  I am an introvert and that may be part of my brand as well.  I like variety and I include variety in my reading, and my music, and my activities.

I don’t think I have gone very far, I need to do a lot more work on this.  But it is a good challenge.  Let me know if any of you are working on something like this yourselves.

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A happy introvert

Good morning,  I have kept busy with reading, walking, going to some movies, and music.

More thoughts on self discovery:  I am reading a book called Quiet The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  This is a book which considers the role of introverted persons in various roles in our lives.  This has struck a chord in me because I have always been an introvert and admittedly a somewhat extreme one, and especially when I was younger, a shy introvert.

Reading a book

Reading a book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we live in a society which supports and celebrates a lot of socialization and busyness, introverts can have a hard time fitting in. I have recently accepted the comfort of my own personality, and I have enjoyed it.  Those of you who are readers and writers may also have experienced this same struggle:  Am I OK?  Why can’t I just read a book this afternoon? Why does everyone go to parties?  and I don’t really want to.  I think amusement parks are tedious  and noisy.  I was a mystery to my parents, who liked my good marks in school, but also wanted me to be more social and especially, to have more boy friends.

So it is a good feeling to read a book which 1: validates the experience of not fitting in, and second: celebrates the real contributions and strengths of introverts.

Today I have been reading the section where Susan discusses the difficulty that introverts have in very social religious practices, such as the very successful evangelical church, the Saddleback Church.  She discusses the work of a man named Adam McHugh, an evangelical minister, who struggles with the sense of being “not right” and wonders if God is pleased with him as he is.  He is now accepting himself as a religious introvert, and is speaking up about the need for more solitude and contemplation in religious practice.  His book is called Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.  I haven’t read the book, if you have read it or if you do read it, I would love to receive a comment on it.

I don’t want you to think that I only read serious books.  I have almost finished Agatha Christie‘s book “The Secret of Chimneys.”  Lots of fun.  I am trying to read Christie in order, alternating her books with other fiction.

(OK, I admit it I am a little obsessive, as well.)

I also have gone to some good movies, not usually the blockbuster types.  I recommend Moonrise Kingdom which has had excellent reviews but is not widely released, and Woody Allen‘s  latest movie: To Rome With Love.

This was not well reviewed, and not well liked, but was a really funny spoof of a lot of social relationships like success, hollywood relationships, and even opera. Have fun with these.