Quite Continental Charm School: Day 5 – The Bump

06/02/2013 § 12 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: The BumpMrs. Donn F. Eisele during her husband’s trip on the Apollo 7 mission, 1968.
Photo by Vernon Merritt, via Life.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
— Haruki Murakami

Day 5: The Bump
Most times my Charm School entries are plucked from the vintage-imbued ether that tends to swirl about my brain, but there are special times that I find inspiration in what is happening in my own life, or from conversations my friends and family.  Today’s lesson is of the latter category.  When I recently experienced a personal setback unrelated to the blog, it impacted my “production schedule” and, frankly, my motivation and pleasure for writing.  Aside from a general malaise about blogging, I also was sailing upon troubled waters.  I was upset, I was angry, I was hurt, I was worried, and the tumult of these feelings lead to a sort of paralysis — almost like a state of emotional shock.

While I felt like all I wanted to do was to sit on my couch and wring my hands, I knew that the only way to improve my current state was to affirmatively affect the present — not wallow in the past, nor worry about the future — after I took time to honor and own the emotions I was experiencing.  While a lot of this was work I had to do on myself, personally, my lovely family, friends and colleagues also played an important part, offering me support, advice and assistance in many different forms.  They listened to me.  They checked in on me.  They spent time with me.  And as they showed that they cared for me in ways large and small, it helped me to feel stronger.  I felt more and more like I didn’t want to wring my hands.  I felt like I wanted to move forward, and that I had the ability to do so.

I was especially affected by the words of someone very special to me, when we were discussing the fact that I was upset that I didn’t even feel like blogging — something I’ve always taken a lot of pleasure in doing.  He assured me that what I was feeling was okay, and possibly even a good sign, because it showed how much I cared about producing something I was proud of.  He also pointed out that my blog was a reflection of my life, and that with a full life there were bound to be bumps, so the blog was bound to have bumps too.  That I had to deal with the bump, ride over it, and — truthfully — try to be ready for the next one, and that I should not take less joy out of blogging because of the bump, because I was learning about myself.  I was growing.

So for today’s lesson, I want us all to focus on making The Bump our friend.  Whatever troubles you might be facing, big or small, if you can find a way to look at them as opportunities for growth, I can guarantee that you will feel empowered to make the affirmative steps to take yourself up off that couch and to stop wringing your hands.  We are only a victim of our circumstances if we allow ourselves to be.  Rude as it may be, The Bump is there to remind us that it is time to change our perspective.  Let’s enjoy the ride as much as we can.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Hold Fast. Let Go.

14/11/2012 § 10 Comments

As I mentioned last week, I still have yet to return home due to damages my apartment building suffered during Hurricane Sandy.  I have been removed from my normal routine and neighborhood, but I recognize that compared to some, I have lost very little.  I am very sorry to have been an absentee parent these past few days, and I wanted to let you know that your emails checking in on me have been a particularly bright spot for me in this stretch of time.  Thank you! xo

That said, I have found these past few weeks difficult.  Personally, when I feel like I have a sense of control over things, I feel the most secure.  Having to leave my home has forced me to cede a certain amount of that control, and that has been disconcerting.  But I believe that this also speaks to a larger concept that I have struggled with throughout my life: the concept of letting go – the process of detaching myself from an outcome, a routine, a person, or a relationship that I have invested my time, my money or my heart (or even all three) into.

In the early post-Sandy days, I realized that I was hanging on to a lot of frustration at being displaced and also at not being able to do anything about it.  It bled over into other areas of my life, causing me to feel sullen and wanting to retreat – all because I felt like I had lost my sense of control over my living conditions.  That’s it!  I hadn’t really lost anything at all!  Well, maybe aside from a few trips to my local — yet overpriced — bodega.  And maybe my perspective.

So, this past week I have tried my best to keep in mind that this change is only temporary, to trust that I will be home soon, to embrace a new neighborhood and to be very thankful that I have the help of some truly lovely friends.  It isn’t every day that I get the opportunity to step outside my usual box and since I haven’t lived on the Upper East Side since 2008, I’ve spent a lot of time simply walking around the neighborhood.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting a few of my old favorite places like the Ralph Lauren mansion, Sant Ambroeus and The Frick, discovering new (to me, at least) gems like the Lexington Bar and Books and Creel & Gow, and I actually forced myself to get out and run in Central Park over the beautiful fall weekend we had.  Changing my perspective was hard work, but I’ve been feeling much, much better.

Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, there is something very, very easy – and very dangerous – in the refusal to let go of negativity.  It’s what a good friend described to me as being “comfortably sad.”  You get comfortable with being sad or frustrated, because you aren’t quite sure what it would feel like to try to let that go and move forward.  If you’re at all like me, that can seem a bit like jumping out of a plane without being completely sure that you’ve got your parachute – and your two backup parachutes, too.  But the thing is, if we hold on to anger or sadness or regret or pain, we prevent ourselves from moving forward.  We prevent growth.

This can obviously apply to personal relationships as well, and I know I’ve definitely been guilty of this myself.  Holding on to a relationship that isn’t really working or miring yourself in the pain of a relationship that has ended, can sometimes seem like the easier path – better the devil you know.  True, it is a way to avoid dealing with any new feelings or facing the fear of the unknown, but you’re also completely foreclosing your opportunity to be truly happy.  It isn’t easy, don’t get me wrong.  It is a painful process, but it’s nothing compared to the pain of a life spent unfulfilled.  I want you to know that you are worth that risk.  I want you to try to let go.

The first step, is knowing when to say when.  I oddly found inspiration in an old nautical term, illustrated in the picture above, from a 1940 issue of Life Magazine (which you can view here).  The traditional sailor tattoo “hold fast” written across the knuckles, is a good luck charm – one of many such symbolic tattoos worn by seamen throughout the years – to ensure the bearer’s steady grip as he worked onboard.  A “fast” refers to a line (or rope) that has been secured.  However, “hold fast” – or rather, it’s Dutch origins hou’vast or houd vast – also gave rise to the nautical term “avast,” meaning to cease, or to stop.  One term, two very different meanings.

What I chose to take away from this nautical history moment, is that the same hands that can hold fast to something – or someone – are just as capable of letting go.  And while there definitely are things in life that are worth fighting for, not everything is.  What I hope you’ll realize, is that there is just as much strength in the surrender.

Hold fast.  Let go.

Charm School Extra Credit || I Love Lucy: The Charm School

11/04/2012 § Leave a comment

Editor’s note: Even though February’s Charm School has come and gone, I still find myself coming across lovely gems like this one.  If you might indulge me, I will share a few throughout the year as a bit of Charm School Extra Credit.

I Love Lucy: The Charm School
Season 3, Episode 14, Aired 1/25/54

After allegedly being ignored by their husbands in favor of “pretty girls” at a party, Lucy and Ethel enroll in a charm school taught by actress Natalie Schafer (you may recognize her as Lovey Howell from Gilligan’s Island) in an effort to become “well-groomed and charming and attractive.”  Of course, classic Lucy hijinks ensue.

When they present their glammed-up new and improved selves to Ricky and Fred, the men have a bit of a laugh before reminding the ladies that they love them just the way they are — a bit like our very last Charm School lesson, Day 29: The Icing, no?

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

First Quarter: Affirmative, Roger that.

28/03/2012 § 6 Comments

Image via George Eastman House

Ladies and germs, March has been a terrifically busy, yet rather challenging month, I kid you not.  As we close out this first quarter of 2012 — poof! gone! — I wanted to briefly discuss the topic of resolutions, both of the New Year’s and Lenten variety.  Ohhhh yes, remember those?  As we inch closer to 2013, how have you fared?  For me, I’m rating my success a solid C+

As for resolutions: I’ve started three books but I haven’t been able to fight my way to the end of any of them.  I have done some running, but nothing near the distances I need to be ready for a half marathon.  I haven’t actually cooked anything, but I have started to buy groceries.  I haven’t been anywhere near a horse.  I have been actively working at identifying what I want, clearly asking for it, and working to make it happen.

As for Lent: I have successfully banished the snooze button and breakfast sandwiches, but dairy, on the other hand, has been harder to shake.  (We’ll talk about passive negativity in a moment…)

When I take a step back and see all the goals I made for myself and my uneven progress toward achieving them, I have a natural inclination to focus on what hasn’t been done and freak myself out about that.  I’m obviously a failure.  Not only will I completely ignore the big wins (my love of the snooze bar is well documented — an epic snoozer, I would sometimes hit it for over an hour before rising), I will cast aside the smaller victories I’ve made in the process of achieving the greater goals (e.g., groceries first, then cooking) as not good enough.  And then the fatalism comes shuffling in: Since I’ve already messed it all up, why even keep trying?  For me, it can be difficult sometimes to give myself a break and let success come a little slower than my irrational brain — and pride — would like.  So here’s where my attempted ban on passive negativity steps in.  By honoring what I have already accomplished and by recognizing that achieving these goals will not be a quick as flipping on a light switch, I feel more relaxed and much more open to the change and commitment these resolutions require.

But how to do this?  As crazy as it might sound, I simply try to take a moment to reflect on my progress, call out my victories and give myself a mental pat on the back.  You could do this in a moment of meditation on the train or in your car, write about it in your journal, or if you’re not shy about expressing it you could give the words even more strength by saying them out loud.  By choosing to spend my time thinking, writing or even speaking positively, I give power to these thoughts and my spirits are immediately lifted.  It becomes easier to accept the little stumbles on the way to achieving my goals.  I am reminded that as long as I pick myself up, dust myself off and start again, everything is fine.

And for a little inspiration, two child affirmation prodigies you may have already met, but should definitely visit with again:

So let’s agree to take a moment and have a bit of celebration for the awesomeness that you are, and commit to making the second quarter even better.

And I would love to hear about your goals and your progress as well!

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 29 — The Icing

01/03/2012 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Photo by Ed Clark for Life Magazine, 1955.

Editor’s note: I almost can’t believe that we have reached the 29th post in this series.  February has flown by!  Before I launch into the last installment, I just want to take a quick moment to remark upon what an amazing experience this month has been.  First of all, I am exceptionally thankful for all of your comments and emails and thoughts and encouragement throughout the month.  It is exceptionally gratifying to know that you have been enjoying Charm School as much as I have.  Thank you, thank you!  Second, it has been a distinct pleasure collaborating with some of my favorite people, and I hope you enjoyed meeting them.  And lastly, while February may be over, I’m going to try to carry the spirit of Charm School throughout the year, and I hope you will too.

Day 29: The Icing
Today, for our last lesson, I wanted to mention something I like to call the icing.  At times, when we aren’t feeling grateful, when we let our competitiveness get the best of us, we sometimes start to hang our would-be happiness on future events.  I’m sure I’ll be happy when  I lose 5 pounds.  I will be happy when I get a girlfriend.  I will be happy if…when…  Sound familiar?

The thing is, when we condition our happiness on external events, it is the quickest way to feel bad about yourself in the present.  Moreover, when you perceive a need for things to make you happy, the things are going to keep changing.  The goalposts will forever be moving.  You will always come up short.

Instead, try to remember that you already have everything you need to be happy.  You don’t need a huge engagement ring or a baby or a boob job — you don’t need to be completed, because you are already complete.  You are as complete as that tiny seedling in the picture above.  Everything that seedling needs to become a tree is contained within, just as everything you need to become the fullest expression of yourself is contained within.  You are enough.  Turn your focus inward, not outward.  That way, anything that arrives in your life — that boyfriend, that promotion — is simply icing on the cake.

When I looked back over all of the lessons, I thought it was important to mention this, as I definitely don’t mean to imply that you have to buy any things to create a charming life for yourself.  Rather, I believe that those with charm work on the inside stuff first.  Charming people allow that quality to shine through their daily lives, no matter if they have a nice umbrella or not.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 27 — No Contest

28/02/2012 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Winner of first place high diving award Vicki Manolo Draves with second place winner Patty Elsener at the 1948 Olympics in London.  Taken by Ed Clark for Life Magazine.

Day 27: No Contest
When I saw the picture above, of Vicki Manolo Draves and Patty Elsener at the 1948 Olympics, winners of the first and second places in the high dive, I was inspired to write about something that is related — but not specifically limited — to the sporting world.  In fact, my chosen subject has the ability to permeate our entire lives, pretty much from birth, if left to its own devices.  What am I talking about?  Competition.

On the whole, competition can be a rather tricky thing.  It can positively motivate us to improve, but if allowed to run wild, it also has the ability to poison personal relationships, cause stress and lead to unhappiness.  This double-edged sword needs to be dealt with gingerly.  Please also note a distinction between ambition and competition: ambition means you want bigger and better things, competition means you want bigger and better things than that other guy over there (and maybe even at his expense).

First, identify it.  What are you competing for?  Wanting to be the fastest runner in your jogging group or top of the class is altogether different from a generalized feeling of competitiveness with your coworker, friend or partner for no distinct reason.  Generalized competitiveness is the one you have to watch most closely, because if you aren’t competing for a specific outcome, item or position, then why are you competing in the first place?  What is the prize that you are hoping to gain?  Take a step back and think hard about this.  Is all you really want schadenfreude?

Second, can you be supportive?  I don’t necessarily believe that all competition is negative.  Rather, healthy competition can definitely motivate improved personal performance and achievement, such as sibling valedictorians and husband and wife collaborative teams.  But if you find yourself unable to support your fellow “competitor” like Vicki and Patty appear to be doing above, your may need to admit your competitiveness might stem from feelings of insecurity or jealousy.

Third, call yourself out.  Be brave enough to admit to yourself that your ego is a bit out of control, or that you are envious.  Write it down in a journal and ruminate on why this has gotten your goat.  Better yet, if you are close to the person who is inspiring these feelings, admit to them how you are feeling.  The best way to combat unhealthy feelings of competitiveness is to come clean, either privately or publicly, so that you can begin to deal with what is hiding underneath them.

This can be tricky for me at times.  As an oldest child, I have a natural inclination to be the best and the first.  When the whole world seems to be focused on what I lack, it’s easy to turn that same lens upon myself and identify those who seem to have “it all” as my main competitors: she’s smarter, he’s richer, they’re married, he has an amazing job, etc.  But I’ve come to recognize that in the long run, a tendency to compete will only serve to hurt me — and what is there to win, anyway?  Absolutely nothing.

Let’s do our best to change it together, shall we?  For life is not to be “won” but rather, to be relished.  Let’s endeavor to be thankful for what we’ve got, and to support each other on our path to bigger and better things.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 23 — Go Out and Play

23/02/2012 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Madrid, 1908.  Image via the George Eastman House.

Editor’s Note:  One of the best parts of working with some of my nearest and dearest on my Charm School project have been the times when a contributor has suggested a topic that I had on the brain as well, because I knew if the two of us were both thinking about it, you probably were too.  Case in point, today’s topic.  When Christine sent me the idea for her post (Day 8: Your Family Jewels), she enclosed an additional thought that I also had on my own list of things to talk about this month.  What follows is not another guest post, per se, but I wasn’t about to omit her lovely words from the conversation.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


Life moves pretty fast.
If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

-Ferris Bueller

Day 23: Go Out and Play
When we are little, we eternally wish were bigger, older, allowed to stay up late and sit at the grown-up table.  This emphasis on the future, on what is to come, isn’t confined to childhood.  It doesn’t magically stop once we get to watch the Late Late Show.  That yearning to be older is gradually replaced with the notion that we are hurtling towards our future in a runaway train with a busted emergency brake. College! Grad School! Marriage! Children! Career! Retirement! Where Grandfather Time once seemed to ignore us, he now seems to be breathing down our necks as we frantically race to tick all the boxes on the life checklist.

Today, I want to let you know that the emergency brake isn’t really busted.  All your grown-up self needs to do to slow things down, to get a breather and reengage that kid who (shortsightedly) wished he didn’t have to sit at the folding card table at Thanksgiving, is to go out and play.  Rediscover the things you loved to do as a child, and you will definitely receive a respite from the frantic pace of life.  Did you draw as a child?  Why not get yourself a new sketchbook and drawing pencils?  Did you enjoy the dinosaur bones at the museum?  Make a trip to visit them again.  Did you play little league?  Join an adult league.  Whatever you love, I guarantee you will feel the same thrill you used to feel when you buy your art supplies, spy a mastodon, or step up to the plate — I know I do.

Engaging your inner kid will bring great joy to your outer adult and help you truly live in the moment.  I can’t think of anything more charming than that.

By Christine, of N’East Style:
“When I feel like I’m in the thick of things or my life is a horrible mess, I always turn back to the activities that I loved to do as a child. For me a few of those things would be: read Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy (nerd alert!), watch classic old movies (preferably starring Katherine Hepburn or Paul Newman), sit in a tree, dance in my room, go for a long walk by myself, bake a cake, knit a scarf, or draw in my sketchbook. I think it’s rather common that as you get older, you lose touch with the simple things that you really love to do, and it’s only in your youth that you have the time and stress free existence to regularly indulge in them. Yes, yoga and going on a detox diet of some sort is all fine and dandy. But for me, getting back to my early passions is what really gets me grounded and back in touch with myself. It’s something I don’t do nearly enough, but when I do it’s absolutely fabulous.”

How do you indulge your inner kid?
How will you go out and play?

Image via the National Maritime Museum.
The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 9 — A Life Lived With Purpose

09/02/2012 § 8 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested after protesting near
Buckingham Palace, 1907.  Image via The Nationaal Archief in The Hague.

What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose
–Margaret Thatcher

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
–Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death so live, live, LIVE!
–Auntie Mame

Day 9: A Life Lived With Purpose
A charmed life is a life that is grabbed by the horns and lived — a life with direction, a life with purpose.  A charmed life is not spent on the sidelines, accepting whatever is happening simply because it is happening.

For most of us, life lends itself easily to patterns and routine.  Our days can end up looking much the same: wake up, go to work, come home, sleep, rinse and repeat.  We can spend years passively joining the morning rush hour, then the lunch crush, then the evening rush hour.  Isn’t it interesting how this natural inclination towards monotony can simultaneously leave you feeling comforted yet not very fulfilled?  Today, I want you to start living your most passionate life.  I want you to upset some of those apple carts.

While there are many routines you can’t — nor shouldn’t — break (e.g., going to work, paying your taxes, visiting the dentist twice yearly), I want you to turn your attention to your practically imperceptible acceptance of conditions or situations that are less than satisfying.  And then think about why you accept them.  Perhaps you think it might be too difficult to get what it is that you actually want.  Perhaps you don’t think you deserve it.  Perhaps you think things might eventually get better because you are patiently waiting for your boss to promote you or for your husband to realize he could be treating you better.  And it’s true, it could get better.  But I wouldn’t bet on it just happening.

Today is about figuring out what you want and how you are going to get it.  It is about refusing to let life pass you by.  It is about refusing to wake up in that beautiful house, with that beautiful wife, wondering “Well, how did I get here?”  It is about making decisions about how to make things better, putting them into action, and fighting to see them through — no matter how big or small.  It can be about improving your relationship with your girlfriend or agitating for political change.

Historically, I haven’t always been great at this, which is why I think I decided to talk about it today.  I know what it feels like to be frustrated, to feel like you are a victim of circumstance, to feel like there isn’t really anything you can do to make things more satisfying, to feel like it would be too hard to take control of the situation.   But I also know how rewarding it feels to take charge and move forward on a path of my own choosing.  To lead a purposeful life is to lead a more satisfying, exciting and aware existence.  It’s on the top of my to-do list and I hope you will join me.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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