The Bra That Changed My Career

Ali CudbyAli Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. She’s also a bestselling author and has been featured on TV and in print and online publications.

Most women put shopping for bras and root canal surgery right at the top of their “least fun things to do” list. For a long time, I felt the same way. Then in 2004 I had an experience that changed my mind – and my career.

Before 2004, when I went bra shopping it felt like an act of masochism. The largest bra I could find at our local department store was a DD, and it didn’t come close to fitting. When I did find a bra that sorta, kinda worked, it always somehow resembled a flak jacket. I was sure the saleslady felt sorry for me. As a teenager, all I wanted was lacy lingerie in pretty colors, but there was nothing available in my size.

I felt humiliated by those shopping experiences, as if each bra that didn’t fit was communicating a larger message: that I didn’t fit. I excelled in lots of areas, but failing to feel good about my body compromised my self-esteem and undermined my confidence. As I transitioned through my twenties, I figured out other ways to feel good about myself. I focused on my career and friends and eventually came to embrace my curves.

I began dating a charming Englishman who, before long, insisted it was time to meet his family on the other side of the pond. On a whirlwind weekend in England, we were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in. I veered closer to look at the window, and couldn’t help myself. Without thinking, I went inside, leaving my boyfriend’s family standing on the sidewalk.

The store was filled with bras that were pretty, lacy, feminine—and all in large cup sizes. I received a professional fitting and discovered I was a size I never knew existed. Even better, the lovely fitter brought me a dozen gorgeous bras to try on. With each new garment, I felt more and more whole. All of a sudden, I noticed myself standing straighter. “My girls were lifted for the first time ever, in a bra that actually fit, was nice to touch and pretty!”

That fitting changed my life.

“We were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in.”

On that day, I knew I would never wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras again. I got home and began talking to my friends, only to realize that whether they had grapes or melons, almost none of them had bras that fit. In fact, most of them said, “I know my bra doesn’t fit!” When I heard them, I was floored. For all those years, I had suffered in silence, thinking I was the lone oddball. How could so many smart, successful women have ill-fitting bras? Then it struck me — as women, we never really learn how a bra should fit.

That stroke of inspiration became the basis of my company, Fab Foundations. I created a methodology Fab Fit Academy Logofor helping women find bras that fit which became a book, Busted! The Fab Foundations Guide to Bras That Fit, Flatter and Feel Fantastic (no longer in print). Busted! was a bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list for a year! Next, I developed a curriculum for training – and certifying – lingerie retailers in the art and science of bra fitting. My methodology has been used by lingerie pros on six continents around the world … just Antarctica to go!

But a funny thing happened as I was working with all those amazing retailers. As much as they got great at providing fittings, their businesses didn’t always grow. I realized that fit excellence was not the ultimate foundation for creating the best possible business.

I went back to the drawing board.

Your Iconic Brand LogoPulling from my corporate background as a Marketing Executive at companies like The New York Times Company and Animal Planet TV Network, I investigated. A pattern emerged – if women didn’t FEEL good about their fitting experience, they wouldn’t become loyal customers. Period.

I shifted gears and started focusing on helping small business owners develop a foundation for customer relationships that transcended bra fittings. All of a sudden, the one-two punch of fitting/customer relationship started getting results. Clients were growing their businesses by 20%…35%…500%! Even my traditional, bricks-and-mortar retail clients were seeing incredible growth. I was so excited!

On top of that, clients were reporting that their employee engagement was improving, turnover was dropping, and (here’s one I didn’t see coming) a number of clients shared that their marriages were better than ever!

Simply focusing on the customer experience was the key to building the businesses they dreamed of owning.

It’s like the theme song for that 80s TV show, Cheers: You want to go where everybody knows your name. When businesses create that, they get customers for life.

Ali CudbyIn today’s disconnected world, having a place where you feel truly appreciated as a customer is rare and special. When businesses form that bond, they become Iconic in the eyes of customers. This fundamental truth goes far beyond lingerie. Today I love having the opportunity to work with clients in a growing mash-up of industries.

I used to think my AHA moment was when I turned around and saw my reflection in the fitting room mirror at Bravissimo. Now I know differently. When I got that amazing bra fitting, my relationship with my body changed. The day I made the pivot to customer experience, my mission in the world shifted forever.

Every day I wake up (of course, I put on amazing lingerie) and feel ready to make the world a better place – one Iconic customer interaction at a time.

Ali Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. With Ali, businesses lay a strong foundation for building the deep relationships customers crave as the antidote to isolation in the modern economy.

The result? Customers are inspired to buy more often and refer like crazy, while businesses thrive and change customers’ lives.

Ali is a bestselling author and has been featured in TV, print and online for publications such as Cosmopolitan and Essence Magazine, among others. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and spends her spare time in her pottery studio.

Find Ali at www.YourIconicBrand.com

How To Get Publicity By Thinking Like A Journalist

Marsha FriedmanMarsha Friedman is a PR expert with 25 years’ experience developing publicity strategies for celebrities, corporations, and media newcomers alike. In this feature, she shares tips for promoting your brand to the media.

Capturing the attention of the news media is a great way to promote your brand and get your name or your business’ name in front of the masses.

The trick, of course, is to convince print publications or radio and TV stations that they should pay you any mind.

Many small business owners have a hard time envisioning what they can offer the news media, beyond stories that are all about their business, practice, product – or themselves.

That kind of coverage is terrific, of course, but having owned a public relations firm for 25 years I can tell you it’s not easy to get and it’s impossible to sustain. And sustainability is crucial. To stand out in a crowded marketplace, you can’t be a one-hit wonder. You’ve got to stay in front of your audience.

So how do you get journalists and talk show hosts to tell people how incredibly awesome you, your business, your products and your brand are?

It’s simple. You don’t.

Publicity is about getting visibility, credibility and exposure – it’s not about selling. Don’t think in terms of what the news media can do for you. Figure out what you can do for them.

You gain publicity by looking for ways to provide useful, valuable content for the media that is, ideally, tied to something in the news. In other words, you need to think like a journalist, who has no interest in promoting your business or anyone else’s, but is looking for information that would be important, useful or interesting to readers.

That’s where you come in. Are you a financial advisor who can offer TV viewers tips for reducing the amount they pay the IRS? Are you a bakery owner who can provide newspaper readers with recipes for low-calorie desserts during the holidays?

See? In each of those cases, you aren’t selling something. You are offering something.

Let me give you some recent examples of how my public relations firm got publicity for some of our clients.

  • Nearly universal advice. A marriage counselor wanted to bring attention to her practice and Marsha Friedmanher new book. We intrigued the news media with topics such as “Why Are Many Marriages Built for Failure?” and “Why Communication Is the Oxygen that Keeps Relationships Alive,” with her as the expert ready with comments and advice. Since many of their readers, listeners, and viewers are married or planning to marry, she offered the media something they saw as worthwhile. Note that we did not promote her by saying things such as, “Marriage Counselor Wants to Expand Practice.”
  • Bad breath, good angle. A dentist who specializes in diagnosing and treating halitosis has developed a number of products to address that problem. We’ve helped him stay in front of audiences for years with radio and TV talk segment angles such as “How Those Weird Carnival Foods Lead to Foul Breath” and “Will Your Breath Make Cupid Faint this Valentine’s Day?” For all these segments, the dentist is named, his website publicized and occasionally, one of his products is mentioned.
  • Being there for breaking news. The CEO of a company that specializes in cybersecurity wanted exposure in all types of media – print, TV and radio. He turned out to be the right client at the right time. It seemed like every time we checked the news, a private company or government agency was being hacked and personal information about millions of ordinary citizens was being compromised. We scheduled numerous interviews where the CEO commented on why all the cyber information was vulnerable and what could be done about it. We also wrote articles picked up by print and online publications that featured his tips for protecting yourself from hackers. He racked up an amazing amount of exposure for his company.

If you want valuable publicity for your business or product, remember, you need to offer something valuable in return. For TV and radio talk shows, that’s an informative and entertaining interview that will engage the audience. If you do a great job as a guest, the host will have no problem promoting your company and product or service in return. And you can casually work in some mention during your interview as well.

In print, experts are usually identified by their claim to fame, so you may be quoted as Gertrude Smith, owner of Aunt Gertrude’s Pet Sitting Service, and there may even be a reference to your website. Write an article for a publication and it will likely include a bio about you.

All of this will provide more visibility and credibility for you and your product or service while building a brand consumers can fall in love with.

About Marsha Friedman

Marsha Friedman is a public relations expert with 25 years’ experience developing publicity strategies for celebrities, corporations and media newcomers alike. Using the proprietary system she created as founder and CEO of EMSI Public Relations, an award-winning national agency, she secures thousands of top-tier media placements annually for her clients. The former senior vice president for marketing at the American Economic Council, Marsha is a sought-after advisor on PR issues and strategies. She shares her knowledge in her Amazon best-selling book, Celebritize Yourself, and as a popular speaker at organizations around the country.

 

 

Finding the Sweet Spot for Your Next Career

SNeilsen HeadshotHow can you be sure that the new direction you are considering for your career will work out well for you? Read on to learn a clear and simple method you can use to predict career success in your next act. (more…)

Cindy Callaghan: There’s No Business Like Show Business

Cindy Callaghan

Here’s how Cindy Callaghan describes her story: “a bizarre and fascinating tale with lots of twists and turns and things that come full circle.” Here’s how we describe it – yet another person, who after a long and successful (and rewarding, but not passion-filled) career returned to a first love.

Callaghan grew up in New Jersey but wanted to get far away as soon as it was possible. As a kid she dreamt of being in movies – in front of the screen, behind the screen, it didn’t matter. She just wanted to be part of “the business.” (more…)

Is It Time For A Professional Make-Over When…

kathy6-300x2231Do you really know when it’s time for a professional make-over? It’s not when you notice too much grey, sagging skin or even a washed out appearance. I’m not talking about the kind of make-over that changes your physical appearance.

I’m talking about a professional make-over resulting in an over-haul of your career or professional life.

Too many people stay in stagnant or dead-end careers for so long, they don’t even believe it’s possible to change anything. Let’s look at some of the signs YOU are ready for a professional make-over. (more…)

Susan Lander: The Lawyer Who Channels the Famous and Infamous

1421227_219711334874164_531552474_o“Steve Jobs was really fascinating,” says Susan Lander of her tête-à-tête with the tech icon detailed in her book, Conversations with History: Inspiration, Reflections and Advice from Celebrities and History-Makers on the Other Side.

“He really blew my mind, crackling with brilliance and innovation,” she says, still in awe of the conversation.  “And Kurt Vonnegut, he was brilliant too, but believe it or not, Notorious B.I.G. was my favorite. I didn’t want to interview him at first, but he pushed for it, and he became one of my favorites. And of course, Betsy Ross came out as gay when I spoke to her, which was the big revelation in that interview.” (more…)

Marcia Reynolds: Whose Life are You Living?

Reynolds lightThe day the doctors told my father he could no longer work was the day he accepted his death sentence. He was only 59. He had gone deaf due to a growing brain tumor. Yet the doctors said the tumor was operable. There was even a possibility that he could hear again, but they insisted he stop working. No matter how I tried to convince him that he still had a good life left to live, I failed to convince him. Two weeks later, he passed away.

The crazy thing is that I missed the lesson in my father’s passing. My father could not free himself from the identity of being a successful businessman. When he could no longer hold on to that identity, he quit living. All he knew about life was working hard and being the best. He packed his free time with tasks. When he had to give up his addiction to achievement, he gave up his will to survive.

I didn’t see how much I was like him. The obsession I inherited helped me to be successful and almost killed me too. I worked the night after his funeral, thinking that was what he would have wanted me to do. He wanted me to thrive through my achievements at work. I proceeded to be successful partly for myself and partly in honor of his dreams for me. (more…)

Janee Pennington: The Write Choice

19-janee-pennington-2-eashbIf truth is stranger than fiction then Janee Pennington, two-time breast cancer survivor and 20-year-veteran-of-the-hospitality-industry-turned-author, should certainly know. Pennington has scribed a funny, fast-paced fictional novel, Meeting Eve, loosely based on her own experiences as a sleep-deprived international event planner,  juggling crazy client demands and friends in crisis, all the while trying to figure out her own future. While the fictional Eve might entertain and distract you from the day-to-day drudge, the real-life Janee will inspire you to do what you love, follow your dreams, and live passionately.

“There are so many people working for the sake of the salary but they don’t love what they do. I hear all the time, ‘I don’t know what I should be doing’ but I encourage them, ‘You do know what you should be doing, you just need to dig deep in order to find what it is.’ Writing proved to be the prescription that kept me moving forward and excited to wake up each morning,” she says. (more…)

Elizabeth Ghaffari: Lessons in Mentorship

EG_ext_2012 (2)You may be a mid-career woman wondering “how” you might find a mentor. Are you any different from a younger generation woman trying to climb the early stages of the career ladder? Is the challenge of finding a mentor different if you are older, perhaps closer to leaving the corporate world to start your own business or pursue a corporate board role? What are the key elements in any search for a mentor? Is it different for women as compared to men?

These are a few of the issues and discussions explored in my new book, Tapping the Wisdom that Surrounds You: Mentorship and Women (Praeger: September 2014).  I want women at all stages of their careers to begin asking these questions about who they want to mentor them, why they want a mentor, what they want a mentor to do, and what they want as a result of a mentor-mentee relationship. (more…)

Lori Osterberg: 7 Ways Your Old World Is Telling You To Make Room For The New

Lori Osterberg 2014 (1)

Throughout time, history tells us that the only way to move forward is to persevere. Stay on the straight and narrow path with your eyes focused on the end result; that’s the only true way to find success.

Except of course when it isn’t.

In many cases, the path can be muddled over time. It takes a strong person to notice the path isn’t carved in stone; instead there are exit ramps along the way. If you fail to make the turn, your chances of true success may be limited for life.

Yet seeing the exit ramp and taking it are two different things. Making a big change can be a scary endeavor. How do you know when its time to let go and try something new? How do you know if your new ideas will succeed? So many questions; yet there may be simple ways your current situation is pushing you towards change. But only if you know what to watch for.

  1. You are excited about the “New You”.

    You’ve changed. You’ve grown. Yet people don’t recognize the new you. Instead, they expect what they’ve had in the past; the person you used to be. Even if you attempt to explain your new feelings, your new beliefs, they simply turn the other way and continue with life as usual. They refuse to recognize the new you, and would prefer if you forgot that person too. But you have other plans, because the “new you” is all you can think about.

  2. You love the person you are becoming.

    You used to love your job, the groups you’ve belonged to for years, the regular routines that were always a comfort in your life. Now even getting out of bed is pure drudgery. All of your new thoughts and ideas are exploding all around you, making you excited for what’s in front of you. But looking back at what you’ve had … you simply don’t know if you can survive one more day. It’s the new you that excites you most these days.

  3. Your new direction is more in alignment with who you are meant to be.

    You’re hurt by the littlest of things. Everything that impacts you takes on a life of its own. No matter how small the problem, it quickly escalates in your mind into a monumental setback. You’ve even considered calling in sick and skipping out on things you once enjoyed simply because you can’t bear repeating old things. And in some cases, those “old enjoyments” no longer align with your new views. If people don’t “get it”, it often makes things much worse in your mind than they are in reality; because you know that your new way of thinking is now aligned more than ever with who you are meant to be.

  4. You are truly ready to change your current situation.

    There is no longer attachment to what you do. You question everything. What used to make sense now simply makes you angry, hurt or upset. How could you have ever enjoyed this? You question your judgment over and over again, wondering how you ended up where you are today. You dream about changing your current situation on a continual basis; and deep down inside, you know its time.

  5. You catch yourself living in the past.

    Remember when times were good? You think fondly about days long ago. Yet more than likely, you remember being happy, not about what you did during each of those days. What gives us happiness and enjoyment is enjoying what we do. If you no longer find joy, even in something you used to months or years ago, it can change your perception. Living in the past brings up nostalgia, not reality. And no matter how hard we try, the past can never be experienced through excited eyes again. Instead, it’s time to find that same excitement you had during past great experiences, and project that excitement into your current direction.

  6. You continue to see signs towards your new direction.

    The law of attraction simply states that what you deliver out into the world comes back to you tenfold. What you think about becomes your reality. Where you put your energy is what is delivered to you. Those signs are clear; yet you may be ignoring or pushing them aside.

  7. Your new desires keep you awake at night.

    I know you. You wake up at 2 AM and quickly find a pen and paper to write your ideas down. Hour after hour clicks by while you breathe life into your thoughts, seeing them perfectly as they unfold before you, changing your life once and for all. Then 6 AM clicks and the drudgery begins. You channel your ideas to the back of your mind, until 2 AM rolls around once more. If only there was as way to turn it all around, and have your dreams become the best part of your day.

Do you see yourself in any of these situations? If so, its time to do something about it.

Change is scary. But the rewards can far outweigh the costs of putting change into your life. Yes, your life might be radically different than what it was before. Yes, the people and things in your life may adjust. But if you allow the real you to shine through, imagine the new happiness you’ll have from this day forward.

It makes it all worth it, right?

Lori Osterberg is a writer, photographer, serial entrepreneur and business coach. She has co-founded VisionOfSuccess.com with her husband, a site that is dedicated to helping women define their big ideas, pinpoint their exact target audience and develop a successful profit zone around her. Follow her at VisionOfSuccess.com.

Leeya Mehta: Finding Balance through Poetry and Prose

Courtesy of Carl Bower
Courtesy of Carl Bower

It’s funny how life circles back on itself, offering us a second chance to grab hold of a skill or interest we had as a child but abandoned like a forgotten toy as we transitioned to adulthood and got overwhelmed by work and raising families. When struggling with what we are meant to do or what would make us most happy, we often revisit a younger, more carefree and rootless version of ourselves. Leeya Mehta is no different from many of us in this respect except that she has decided to take the leap. Stepping off the conventional career path, the former international development specialist has thrown herself full-time into writing: “When I write, I feel incredibly happy. It’s remarkably satisfying. I don’t find that any part of my life is missing, which is what I used to feel before I became a writer.”

Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Mehta grew up in an open household highly appreciative of culture and the arts. Her mother, an English Literature teacher, writer, and journalist placed few constraints on her only daughter and encouraged her from an early age to express her feelings through writing, acting and directing.

Despite her relatively Bohemian youth, Mehta’s sensible side propelled her onto a more conventional path and she enrolled in Mumbai University’s St Xavier’s College, where she studied economics and math. Surrounded by theories and algorithms, Mehta found reprieve and inspiration in poet and novelist Eunice de Souza, head of the English Department at her college. She also acted in a major role in a unique production of The Crucible by candlelight and started writing a young adult novel when she was nineteen, thinking that somehow she would be able to simultaneously pursue her multiple interests.

Awarded a Chevening scholarship, the British Foreign Office’s equivalent of a Rhodes Scholarship, Mehta did a Master’s in economics and politics at Oxford University in the UK. On returning to Mumbai at the height of the tech boom, she was recruited to run a legal services internet start-up, Legal Pundits, launched by family friends. She did the job for two years before moving on.

“I had started a young adult, semi-fantasy novel that I wanted to finish. I was young and adventurous so I quit my job.” Mehta lived at home with her mother and grandparents, as is the norm for single adults in India. But she was disciplined, writing every day from 7am to 5pm, and doing some consulting in international development on the side.

“This was a wonderful period! My poems and short stories were published and I wrote for newspapers. I was invited to read my work in New York and at the University of Michigan. Because of my private sector experience, consulting seemed the best way to earn a living and allow me the time to write, and I was trying to figure out how to do both when an exciting opportunity took me on a UN University (UNU) fellowship to Tokyo.” At the UNU Mehta researched and wrote a paper on how to make a profit from environmental stewardship. Her experience in Tokyo led to a series of poems set in Japan, but also strengthened her resolve to balance a career in international development with her writing.

Around this time, Mehta’s mother, who had remarried and moved to the US, became quite ill. Wanting to be closer to her, Mehta enrolled in Georgetown University’s Public Policy Master’s Program to study energy and environmental policy as her goal was to work for an international NGO. She was editor of the Public Policy Review, and, during her first year, she signed up with the World Bank as a consultant on energy and carbon finance projects in the Africa region.

Marrying a fellow Georgetown graduate, Mehta soon found herself with two small children, a busy job, and little time to write. It gnawed at her. “There was always the sense that I was missing something fundamental. I knew what it was. I had already had a test run, I knew what it felt like. I wanted to go back to it but, with a young family and work, it was hard.”

Mehta stayed with the international institution but took on a new position after a few years as an independent evaluator of the Bank’s gender mainstreaming policy in the poverty and gender group. “I had a great gig with two phenomenal managers. They allowed me to work from home and I had a lot of flexibility to operate,” she recalls.

At the end of 2012, Mehta took advantage of the flexible work hours and moved to an as-when-needed basis. She did some projects on the side but for the most part immersed herself in a new novel about three generations of women in an Indian family and how each one responds internally to violence in the home, how their own rage has unintended consequences.

And then, with her manuscript coming together, tragedy struck.

288
What remained of Mehta’s home after the devastating fire

The family home caught fire in the middle of the night. “It was a full blown crazy fire. It was providential that I woke up in time for us to escape being trapped and we were able to walk away with our lives. But we lost everything. Absolutely everything. And we had very little insurance. It took a couple of months to get back on our feet. We stayed with friends during that period. We had to start over completely.”

While Mehta’s husband’s computer had melted and fused to the kitchen table, her own Toshiba, although burned, had the hard drive intact. She brought it to local consumer electronics firm, Best Buy, to back up the drive. Incredibly they lost the drive and it only turned up after several weeks of hounding them. Staying with friends at the time, a somewhat distracted Mehta unfortunately placed the back-up and original together in a box, which was promptly lost along with three other boxes and her husband’s tennis rackets when they moved into their current apartment.

“It was as if everything was conspiring to get rid of that book! January was very hard for me. The thought of starting the book again was depressing. I kept getting pains in my chest. I even went to the doctor for a stress test but she laughed me off. I knew I should not let this kind of stress get to me but it wasn’t that easy. Yet I knew where my contentment lay, and that I had to be tenacious; I set myself a goal to write every day and hit a certain word count. It was just a matter of getting started and then it felt so easy.”

Like a fairytale, occasion followed calamity. Mehta’s mother stepped forward, offering to cover childcare and other expenses so her daughter could focus more intensely on writing. “It’s the most amazing thing she’s ever done. She sat me and my husband down and said, ‘You’ve been through a really traumatic experience. I’m going to give you what you need to make this happen. I want you to get back your emotional and physical health. I want you to write your book because that’s what you want to do. I don’t want you to worry about money, and so for two years, you can count on my support. What are my savings for if not to help you?’”

And so she began again, this time without worrying about money and investing more time in her health and wellbeing.

In addition to completing her novel, the 38-year-old Mehta continues to write poetry and is invited to read and speak on panels. “The poetry was always easier to take off. Being featured in publications like The Beloit Poetry Journal has opened many doors and I have found that poetry publishing is a nurturing world. I’m driven to write fiction but I’m drawn to the creative process of both. I do one and come up for air and then I do the other.”

And if she is not successful with her novel? “I’m just going to write the next one. I’ve made up my mind. My mother’s two-year cushion is coming to a close but we’ll adapt to the situation. This is what I was meant to do. I’ve got to write.”

Leeya Mehta’s Tips for pursuing your passion

  • It’s hard to have every box checked off if you want to pursue something other than your job. It’s difficult to take care of yourself, your family, and find the time to focus. If you can, invest in help around the house, invest in exercise, sanity, nutrition…get help where you can.
  • I would encourage young people to stick with one thing if you can. It’s nice to have something you can develop, and get better and better at. Even if it’s a hobby on the side, be it technical or creative, one must be single-minded
  • Have confidence and be optimistic. Have the stamina to pursue what you are doing without getting bitter
  • Build a community around yourself, that enriches you and celebrates you and makes you feel secure

You can read some of Mehta’s poetry here. Below is one she selected for Career 2.0

 

David and the Hummingbird

For Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

 

Joyce tells a story of the day

the bird flew into the shed

and would not leave;

it beat its wings until it fell

exhausted to the floor.

 

But it didn’t end like that,

nor was this the beginning—

 

The morning of the Kill,

the hummingbird flew through the open door

and circled round and round the blood

“It was not interested to feed,” she said,

but just to see and understand.

 

It went up into the rafters

and then down again

towards the cement floor.

Its blues and greens dancing in

the light and dark;

the corners hiding it and then

like magic, letting it be seen.

 

David tried to make it leave;

first, sugar feeders lured it outside;

then, when it was noon, the

darkest noon they’d ever seen,

the thunder began.

He set the sugar water inside the garage door

“It must not starve,” he said.

 

The day was hurried, like the

wings—it beat and beat.

The world grew still behind the

murmur of the bird

as if to move, to breathe, would be too much.

 

The rain was sheets of ice;

it pierced the ground, it tore into the hillside’s heart

forcing the mountains to slide and the roads to close.

At dusk the rain stopped, bringing on a night that had not known a day.

The sky cleared and that was when she said she knew

the bird’s heart had begun to burst,

“You could hear it banging in your ears.”

 

The small buzzing body lifted up to the

ceiling one last time and dropped.

From where it lay the stag’s head was a foot away;

the eyes of the beast, strained and dead;

the bullet hole straight through its neck

revealed the moon in the night sky which shone

like a polished coin.

 

He picked it up to rest it for the night

in a shoebox with soft muslin cloth.

She said, “Its eyes brimmed with tears.”

Was it fear? It did not tremble.

Was it relief? Did it not know it was only David?

And he said, “It is bereft. It must be saved.”

 

Then began the longest night.

He left the bird to sleep beneath

the stars. It did not know

the inside of their house.

It could get disoriented in that space.

 

He lay beside her in

their bed, his ever faithful

heart racing beneath her hand.

Kindness cannot be measured by a single good deed—

a few here, a few there, some withheld.

Love measured out in spoons

as if it were a finite bucket of gold dust.

 

He would not sleep—

he tore the covers off

and shot down the stairs—

It would be cold, the raccoons might overturn the box.

The bird twitched and murmured in its sleep,

he put it on the garden table and

covered its feet.

 

Back in bed he tossed and turned—the coyotes would not spare its life

One a.m. and out he went again.

Carrying the box in, he saw its

eyes open and look at him.

What a strange look it gave, as if

there was no meaning there—

a still hard look, but liquid eyes,

as if it was not a bird to

speak of anything—

its mystery not a mystery at all

for it hid nothing

and revealed nothing both at once.

 

He sat beside it in the hall

he wrung his hands

he stood up

and paced and breathed

he towered over it, afraid of it

and yet he had to watch it once again.

It had been resting while he paced

now it turned its head

a movement so small an immeasurable dot in space

and looked up at him.

They stared into each other’s eyes

this grown man and this miniature creature of the flower world

Decades he had lived so well

this small bird seemed to know it too.

 

“What is the meaning of it all?” he asked aloud

The hummingbird closed its eyes and went to sleep.

He sat down again and prayed a while

As the bird’s breast rose and fell;

the morning light would bring it back;

he dreamed of it in his garden years from now.

 

As the sun came fiercely into the room

it was not clear any more who slept and who kept vigil—

the bird watched him as he slept

but closed its eyes again when he began to stir.

The hummingbird stayed with David until

the stag was gone, a day late, in the butcher’s van.

Their friends who’d shot the beast would send them some to taste.

 

David’s heart leapt with joy,

the sun was hot and the

little one was gathering its body and

shaking the sleep away.

He tried to catch its eye again but it did not look at him,

and then, as if the night was no time to go,

as if it had tried for David’s sake alone,

it died under a blazing morning sun at eleven o’clock.

 

There are many sorts of men—

some of them are cruel to humans

and rescue animals; they are kind to dogs.

“Some men are good for all to see,

Some men are always good,” Joyce said to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa Becker: The Accidental Author

Headshot 2.jpgWe’re a dime a dozen….those of us who dream about writing The Great American Novel, or a children’s book or even a magazine article for that matter. But few do, and even fewer find a way to repeat the success of one book and turn it into a career as a writer. But Lisa Willet Becker did it even though she never actually fantasized about being a writer. “I do remember writing short stories and poems as a little girl, and I remember telling myself I’d write a book one day but never really knew what that would be.”

All through her time at the University of California, San Diego, the practical California native had her sights set on becoming a lawyer. She majored in English and American Literature, applied to law school, got accepted but then decided to defer for a year. She took a one-year position as a field representative with her college sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.  During that year, she traveled to 30 universities across North America, meeting with students, school administrators and alumni, to help further the scholastic and philanthropic goals of the overall organization. It was a year of introspection and growth which enabled Becker to make some career changes.

“I decided I would make an awful lawyer. I didn’t think I would be disciplined enough and I didn’t think I would enjoy the work. And I really enjoyed what I was doing in the moment.”

What she was doing in the moment she defined as public relations. Years later she realized it wasn’t really “PR” but it still turned out to be a fortuitous decision. “Never mind that PR turned out to be a lot more writing and strategizing and media relations than what I was doing which was more interpersonal communications. But it still turned out to be what I really enjoyed doing and what I think I was meant to do.”

So, again, always the practical one, she decided to hone her skills and back them up with a degree. Heading East, Becker applied for and secured a spot in Boston University’s College of Communications where she earned a Master’s  in PR. She reveled in the coursework and her part-time job as a writing fellow and graduate teaching assistant. She loved Boston as well, but when it came time to graduating and looking for a job, she knew she had to look elsewhere.

“Boston is full of great PR firms, but it’s also full of talented graduates looking for local jobs. There just are not enough jobs for everyone.”

A professor of Becker’s suggested, “Hey, why don’t you move to New York and get a job at Burson-Marsteller? They’ll work you to the bone for two years, but then you can write your ticket.” Becker remembers thinking, “Gosh, I’ll never work for a big firm like Burson-Marsteller.”

Although the professor’s suggestion would prove to be prophetic, at the time Becker had no interest in living in New York or working for a big agency. “I was from California and I loved Boston, and while I didn’t need to go back to California right away, I didn’t really have any interested in New York.”

It was 1995 and the Olympics were heading to Atlanta, Georgia, that year. Becker smartly assumed that the city would be ripe with marketing jobs in advance of the events. So despite knowing just one person in the city, she moved there, crashed on a couch for two weeks and networked nonstop. Within three weeks she had a job and an apartment: “I wound up working for a small boutique PR firm called Cookerly and Company. It was just six people at the time so I got a lot of experience in the three years I was there.”

Becker believed she did everything at a small agency that would have taken her twice as long to learn at a large one. Responsible for everything from making copies to figuring out how to dial up to AOL (1996 remember), Becker also was responsible for managing client budgets, strategizing and writing communication’s plans for the year, and managing client relationships.

After three years, when Becker was feeling the pull of her native California, she felt equipped to go after jobs at bigger agencies that once turned her off. “My professor was right after all. I decided I really needed something different, and I wound up working in the Los Angeles office of Burson-Marsteller.”

Becker settled nicely into her career at Burson. She loved the people, the work and despite it being the boom years in California where job offers were aplenty, she stayed put for about 14 years.

During that time, Becker also met her future husband during the nascent days of online dating. “I figured people were married to their cell phones and laptops, so why not really use that technology to get married, right?”

After the wedding, she began to jot down funny stories from their courtship as well as stories from friends.  For a while the stories seemed to be working themselves nicely into a novel, but with a full time job and two children they sat on her computer, mostly untouched for years.

But when Becker turned 40, she had a novel idea. “I decided that instead of buying a red convertible to symbolize my midlife crisis, I would quit my job.”

Although she stayed on for an additional two years as an on-call employee with Burson, Becker relished the idea of more time with her children and more time for projects that she had set aside in the crazy days of working and child rearing.

When she was cleaning out her files at work, she stumbled upon her old draft of a manuscript, called Click: An Online Love Story. The story is told entirely in Click cover photoemails between the heroine, her friends and the dates she goes on. She took it home and made the commitment to work on it a little bit each day. “I wrote at night or while the kids were napping. I like to say it was a year’s worth of writing spread out over the course of eight years.”

When the book was done, she shopped for an agent but found the process discouraging. “It’s a lot of waiting and a lot of rejection.”

But one person who read it suggested she self-publish and Becker decided she was ok with that. “I thought, I’m not planning on being a writer anyway. This way I can get my book out there, and my mom and dad can say their daughter wrote a book.”

Oh how silly she was.

Unlike many authors, Becker wasn’t intimidated by the idea of self-publishing because she felt her marketing background gave her an advantage in the competitive world of self-publishing. So with no agent or publisher biting, Becker went ahead and published Click, her fictional account of an online romance. She put a marketing plan together just like she would have for one of her clients and started promoting it.

“Surprisingly people started reading it and then people I didn’t know started reading it.” The readers came in droves, and they liked what they read. In fact, they liked it so much, and grew so attached to the characters that they wanted to know, “What happens next? When’s the sequel coming out?”

cover double clickBecker responded and started work on a sequel, Double Click.  When she completed the sequel, she assumed correctly that she might have an easier time landing an agent already having one book with great reviews under her belt. But after letting the agent shop the book for a year unsuccessfully, Becker decided again to self-publish. The second one did well enough that she wrote a third, at which point, Becker didn’t even look for an agent and went straight to self-publishing.

Becker’s third Book Right Click came out this past summer. And Becker made it clear to her fans that it was a trilogy, and that was the end.

But it wasn’t the end of her creativity.

“As the third book was being edited I had an idea for another book but when I started writing it, it seemed more like a screenplay to me.”

So Becker bought some software to coach herself through the screenwriting process for what became, Clutch, the story of a handbagfront cover final copy designer searching for true love told by comparing men to handbags, i.e. “the Hobo bag” (the loser boyfriend who steals money from you) and “the Wallet” (the one who lavishes you with expensive gifts but nothing else.)

As she was wrapping up her screenplay, Becker got a call from a family friend who asked if she’d be interested in optioning her first book.

“I said yes of course, and sent him Clutch as well.”

The ink is still drying on the deal, but as of last month, Becker’s first book and first screenplay have been optioned by a production company housed at Sony. She is now working on her fifth screenplay and pursuing a career as a screenwriter. See you at the movies.

Some personal words from Becker on getting published:

As a graduate student studying public relations at Boston University, I was asked to interview Charles Rosen, a producer for the original “Beverly Hills 90210,” for an article in the alumni magazine. During our chat, he said, “Don’t fall in love with your words, because somebody above will probably change them.”

During my 18+ year public relations career, I’ve worked with some of the biggest consumer companies in the world including McDonald’s, Ford, Sony, and Gatorade.  And, I’ve spent countless hours writing news releases, bylined articles, marketing proposals, brochures, advertising copy, public service announcements, radio copy, mat columns, fact sheets, photo captions, media alerts, pitch letters, letters to the editor, video news releases, etc.

I carried Mr. Rosen’s words with me every day as colleagues, bosses and clients have “changed my words” sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

When it came time for me to write something personal, based on my own experiences and initially for my own pleasure, I relished the opportunity to write what I wanted, how I wanted and when I wanted.  It was only after I considered publishing the book that I nervously harkened back to Mr. Rosen’s advice.

But, I took the plunge and explored the traditional publishing route, getting feedback from multiple literary agents.  One suggested that I rewrite the book into a typical format with just a few emails here and there.  But, I wanted to stay true to the narrative that I thought worked best.

Another agent explained the current economic state of the publishing industry to me.  Due to the large investment to edit, produce, distribute and market a work by an unknown author, many large publishers won’t take the risk.  She recommended self-publishing as a way to get my work out there and allow me to control the process.

And, so, I decided to self-publish my novels.  And honestly, I couldn’t be happier.  For better or worse, this is the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it.  Thankfully, readers and reviewers seem to be enjoying it.  And so, thanks to the popularity and ease of self publishing, I say to all of the aspiring writers out there, “Go ahead and fall in love with your words.”

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