Monday, 5 November 2012

Meeting People

Readers who send me email often get two replies. The first is a short acknowledgement that I read the email, but that it is late in the day and I will answer in the morning when I am caffeinated and brainy. Giving advice about someone else's life is a very serious thing to do and very rarely do I have automatic insights. I have to sleep on it.

So at the national book fair in Kraków last week, I had the difficult experience of hearing a question and giving the wrong answer. Of course, it was probably not as difficult for me as it was for the woman who had come to see me, and enjoyed my book, and hoped that I could correctly answer her very heartfelt question.

The question was, in short, "How can I meet men?" And my very pathetic answer, for which I beat myself up for the rest of the afternoon, was "Well, as I do not live in Poland, I do not really know. What about work?"

But her field is dominated by women and gay men, and she has embarked on promising friendships with single men through work, only to discover that they are gay.

And then I drew a blank. My M.Div. training says that when you draw a blank, you refer. So I referred my reader to a local support group for Catholic (mostly) Single women, although stupidly I did not have the contact information at my fingertips, and there was a bit of a public fuss bilingual as the sales team hunted for it. Such are the pitfalls of combining business with vacation.

So I officially apologize to my Polish reader for being so unprepared. And, typically, it was only after I had slept on it that I got the answer to her question.

The answer is that in order to meet other people, you have to think first about how you come across to other people. You may want to meet other people, but what is it about you that would make people want to meet you? You cannot control or change other people, but you can certainly control or change yourself.

Are you a happy, funny person? Do you have interesting ideas? Are you a whizz with the cocktail shaker? Are you cosmopolitan--travelling from country to country and making acquaintances among the natives while remaining intriguingly foreign? Are you a good listener? Do you sparkle when you are eating a great meal? (I know a woman who positively glows with light when she eats a great meal.) Do you notice when someone does something good or wears something beautiful and remark upon it? Can you sweet-talk your way into a restaurant for a coffee when the server says it isn't open yet? Do you think of servers as robots or as people with mysterious double-lives, servers by day, possible cellists by night?

Do you live in public? By this I mean, do you make your voice heard? Not enough people write letters to newspapers: it seems always to be the same people. But writing letters to newspapers gets you noticed. So does following up letters with the offer of an op. ed. to a newspaper. Not enough women write opinion pieces--conscientious newspapers are on the lookout for opinion pieces by women. Academic and literary magazines love unpaid book reviews; people are more likely to read book reviews than books.

Can you write well in another language? Would an Italian newspaper pay for a column called "Notes from Nebraska"? Would a Chicago or Philadelphia newspaper be interested in a column called "The New Lwów" or "Warsaw Today"?

Do you have a blog? And if you blog, how do you present yourself? What tone do you use, and what kind of person is most likely to be in sympathy with your ideas? Would this change if you changed your tone from sardonic to cheery, or from bland to over-the-top insane?

Do you enjoy pursuits popular among both men and women? My Polish reader told me that men don't go to book clubs. This does not surprise me as it is well known in the industry that women buy most of the books. But when men do buy books, they buy thrillers and crime fiction. If Ian Rankin is making an appearance at your local bookshop, men will be there. Men go to writing groups, too, to say nothing of Spoken Word events. (I have been hit on more by poets than by any other kind of men, including philosophers.)

Are you terrifically fond of your national or ethnic culture? Have you thought of travelling to places where immigrants and the children of immigrants celebrate your culture? From what I gather from British television, a young single New York or Polish Jew would be welcomed by London Jews with open arms and lists of other singles. (If I am wrong, blame "Jewish Mum of the Year".)

What have you got and what are you that other people admire? And how do you present this? If your habitual expression is an unhappy scowl and you pay less attention to your appearance than an habitless nun (nuns in habits, e.g. in Poland, look beautiful), then you are not presenting yourself well.

The objection to all this, of course, is "Why should I change? Why can't can't everybody else change so that they can appreciate me without my having to do the work?" And the answer is "Because you are outnumbered." And, anyway, it's not you changing yourself, it is about you presenting your gifts in a public-positive fashion. Some fashion-plate or other is on record as saying, "I owe it to the world to look fabulous. They have to look at me."

When I am in Poland on business, I am in the business of selling Anielskie Single. And selling Anielskie Single gives me an excuse to do what I really like, which is chat with all of you, either here or live in person (like on the May women's retreat, which was awesome). And as we all know, appearances sell books.

Before I make an appearance, I always go the hairdresser to be ironed first. (We can debate curly vs straight later.) I pack nice outfits, I wear bright red lipstick and in Poland I greet people in Polish in my startlingly non-Polish accent. I may not be a raving beauty, but at least I look and sound interesting: certainly more interesting than in Toronto where I am just another Canadian lady speaking English with the flat local accent.

And what is the result? The result is that of the 500 authors who appeared at the book fair in Krakow, my big-haired, red-lipped, gypsy-dressed, foreign-lady photo appeared among the fifteen author photos on the website of a fashionable Krakow magazine. In short, I got noticed and, as that made my very nice and hardworking marketing director happy, I'm happy. Sales mission accomplished, and I hope this post makes up for the chat mission I failed.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Welcome back! Do you have an article that explains your opposition to on-line dating via a Catholic site? Sure, there are some 'scratch and dent' type of suitors but there are also some wonderful Catholic men who have already made up their minds that marrying within their faith is important. I felt like I had a lot to offer so I put myself out there 'Nationally'. And, it eventually worked. I did not put all my eggs in the online basket but that was where I met my wonderful, Catholic husband. Would appreciate your thoughts on why you are not for it. Thank you! Cindy

Urszula said...

Welcome back, Seraphic! I missed your auntly advice terribly but was sustained by the thought that you were surely enjoying my home country and the opportunity to speak Polish :) Congratulations on your recognition in Krakow!

As to the topic at hand, I think your reply is fantastic, especially to a Polish reader. What I've noticed about myself - and other Poles - is that we have a tendency to self-criticism (often displayed in self-deprecating humor). Or maybe, more aptly, restraint when it comes to showing ourselves off - which is quite the opposite of what is inculcated in young Americans at school, for example.

This is visible in not only personal but professional settings. I’ve been able to overcome it with lots of American training, but it’s very hard to root out, and I still hate ‘selling myself’ in job interviews although I understand why it’s necessary and manage to do so quite well nowadays. My dad once had me try to help out his grad student who, in spite of brilliant knowledge and technical skills, always failed to get internships in his field. For example, in my mock interview with him, he insisted on telling me about all his failings, and to my fairly standard HR question “What are your greatest weaknesses?” he looked at me aghast and asked “But which ones? Personal or professional? Because there are so many!”

He insisted he had to tell a prospective company about the worst in himself ‘to be honest.’ What I explained to him was that he wasn’t being honest and telling the truth about himself by mentioning only his negative attributes and never touching upon his strengths – he was also presented a skewed picture of himself, albeit the opposite of usual :)

Sorry for the long comment, but this just to say I’ve seen a similar attitude amongst many other Poles, so your advice to play up your strengths is brilliant, especially in this context!

Jam said...

There's a commercial in the US right now for a credit card, or specifically for the rewards program which lets you earn backstage passes and so on. In it, the guy gets broken up with by all these girls who tell him he's "boring" and in retaliation he goes to all the special credit card awards events. It's a really weird ad, I think it says a lot about what the advertisers think (rich) men's weak spots are, and commercialism as the answer to personal problems, etc. Here's the link:

Anyway, while I think the advertisement is sad this post made me think of it.

I once did some sort of leadership/self-esteem workshop where they gave us a diagram of a wheel and the various spokes were different aspects of your life. You were supposed to rate your satisfaction with each aspect, and then they advised us not to focus on improving just one aspect, but to choose three to work on together, in order to be more balanced/rounded. I often think of that wheel when I'm dissatisfied with life, and I often realize that I'm missing a creative outlet, or a charity project, or I haven't called any of my friends in a long time, and so on.

MaryJane said...

Your line, "Not enough women write opinion pieces--conscientious newspapers are on the lookout for opinion pieces by women" jumped out at me - and I am curious to hear a European perspective - because in America it seems that they are only looking for opinion pieces by women that express the opinion they want. That is to say, if you are a woman, and you write about your politically incorrect opinions, they are not going to be interested in publishing. Is this not true in Europe(/ Canada)?

Seraphic said...

TheVeilofChastity, if you type "Catholic dating sites" into the serach box, all kinds of posts about Catholic dating websites come up. But to choose my top two peeves,(1) people winnow down their choices based on the photos (some of which are likely to be 10 years out of date) or the spelling (and one of the most brilliant Catholic bachelors I know can't spell for toffee); (2) people use others as instant message pen pals/flirts for weeks or months without having the slightest intention of meeting them.

Urszula and Jam, thank you.

MaryJane, if your op ed gets rejected, read why or send a short email to the editor asking extremely politely and humbly why. (If you are a student, say so, and say you would really appreciate the opinion of someone so advanced in the field.)

It might be because the paper isn't interested in your politics, but it could be because they have heard the same p.o.v. so many times before, or because they would prefer the ideas to be presented in a fresh new way. An ordinary pro-lifer writing a pro-life piece is not as interesting as a pro-lifer disagreeing with one aspect of pro-life activism, or an atheist lesbian stating why she is pro-life. Overturning expectations is definitely something that catches editors' eyes, which may be why pro-abortion nuns and anti-Vatican priests get so much attention.

In terms of politics, it's useful to do your research and figure out which newspapers are likely to give your politics a fair shake. For example, Canada's "National Post" is the only national Canadian daily I am sure gives Catholics, pro-lifers and the state of Israel a fair hearing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thank you for your response! I searched 'Catholic Dating sites' and agree with all that you wrote. On-line dating can be horribly discouraging, especially if you put all your eggs in that basket and allow the process to distress you emotionally . I saw on-line dating as a "supplemental" way of dating, not the sole source. With that approach, I remained open to all avenues. These various avenues expanded my options when it came to potential suitors. I honestly never expected to meet my husband on-line. It was a long-shot back in 2001 but today it is becoming more and more common. Our story was presented on my blog last Friday and the rest of the story will be presented this Friday. Obviously, I don’t have all the answers. At the same time, I am not sure that completely cutting of a viable avenue makes sense. What I am sure of is that you have a ton of insight into this topic based on your outreach to singles! Again, thank you. Cindy

MaryJane said...

Interesting. I guess I was thinking of most newspapers that wouldn't give my kind of politics a fair shake... and the problem is that the ones who will are already filled with people writing the same thing. (A pro-life piece in the NCRegister is mundane, but completely non existent in the NYTimes.) However, I think the the "different" spin is a good one to think about. Thanks!