Saturday, March 6, 2010

International Women's Day -- Celebrating Reinvention And Survival

In my previous post, I wrote about our traditional social life, vs. the expanding world of social networking. I promised two follow up stories about each, but Monday is International Women's Day. I couldn't resist. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. I decided to roll both stories together - tied with a big bow to celebrate our ways as women.

As most men can attest, women are changelings. We love to change our hairstyle, our nail color and our fashions with the turning of the seasons. We do spontaneous things - like grab and hug each other in the grocery store. We love to laugh with Julia Robert's style whoops. We love to talk, and talk - and talk. When someone we love gets a "boo boo" of the physical or emotional kind, we are always there - usually with food.

Women are experts at surviving - picking up the pieces, throwing on some lipstick and getting back out there, in our careers, personal lives or physical health. Erica Tannen is one of those changeling women everyone wishes would be their best friend. Fabulous, loud, funny, and savvy, Tannen has been in the fashion retail world for over 30 years. She knew what women wanted, and how to deliver.

After having a daughter and moving into a tiny town in "the country" she let go of her bustling career, and reinvented herself as a full time mother.
"I loved it - for the first year or so," Erica laughed. "And then I was soooo bored! I had no idea what to do after I cleaned the house and went to yoga class! I didn't want to go to lunch, and realize I have zero skills as a housewife."

Tannen realized she had been spending a lot of time sending emails to girlfriends about her favorite new restaurant, a cool skirt at a local shop, or great scone at a bakery - and had an idea. "I decided my skills as a buyer could translate into skills as an editor, to find the nice things in life women like to buy and put it out as a weekly eblast."

The "E-list: an Excruciatingly Opinionated Guide to the CT Shoreline" was born, and quickly became a local sensation for women. Bound by our shared obsession with email and shopping, women eagerly waited for her weekly smorgasbord to hit the Inbox featuring the cutest sandals down the street, favorite fish entree, or cool art exhibit. Local ads made it self-supporting.

Tannen now has over 4,500 'friends,' yet they were invisible tendrils in cyber land. Social networking was exciting, yet vacuous.
Tannen reflected, "I have created a wonderful life for myself out here, but I spend so much time on screen, I forgot the daily interactions with women are what keeps me going."

Tannen's latest reinvention to balance what women really want, came this winter by converting an abandoned showroom into an "Insane Inside-Sidewalk Sale." Local merchants brought sale items, and over 900 women showed up to shop, giggle, show-off something new - not to mention celebrate the simplicity of gathering together. Eblasts are ok, but parties are better!

I am convinced women must have regular social interactions to feel healthy and alive. After investigating the impact of social networking, Facebook reminds me of shopping at the mall; fun, mindless, and satisfying in some weird sort of way. Browsing the various stores is similar to 're-connecting' online. Maybe you take the time to stop in a store and actually try a few things on, and maybe you check out someone's profile and leave a message - but the point of "going to the mall" or hanging out of Facebook is mostly to merge in to the mindless mass of humanity for awhile.

Larissa Lytwyn a 28-year-old freelance writer, agrees.
"Facebook is a great way to stay in touch, but it is not a substitute for real life, and remembering what really matters."
Lytwyn felt many women her age are not investing enough time in physical connections. Recognizing she was getting too obsessed with Facebook, so she took a month off to go out to dinner and movies with friends instead. "I was amazed at how much time I had," she laughed.

You know when women's gift for connecting and "being there" really kicks in? When the shit hits the fan. As a final nod to International Women's Day, here's a tribute to the true survivors: those who looked the face of cancer in the eye, and are still here to talk about it. Beth and Leslie are two breast cancer survivors, and fast friends - who scoff at Facebook and emails as a way to "stay in touch."

"I need the touch of your hand, and the white's of your eyes," smiles Leslie faintly.

Both women knew each other through their children, and were "friendly" in that general sort of way - until both fell to the terror of breast cancer, one after the other. They found a deep intimacy of discussing the gore of drains, knowing that Carnation Instant Breakfast is all you can eat, silk scarves feel best after the hair falls out, and coolers of food placed at the front door spares having to force a gracious chat.

"No one truly understands what it is like, unless you go through it yourself," muses Beth. "Being a survivor does not end after your hair grows back, and the women who have been through it bond together forever."

I ran into both women at the grocery store one day - pushing a cart together, sporting freshly grown hair styles and gigging about a new clinical trial they are in that involves going to a gym three times a week. Of course I hugged them, laughed uproariously with them and drove home touched in the deepest place inside. I love being a woman, love my friends, and am so grateful they are still here.

In honor of International Women's Day, take a break from Facebook and get out there to hug and giggle with the women who mean the most to you. Tell me a story about a special woman in your life in the comments below.

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