What would Helen say?

Helen Gurley Brown's opinions were radical at the time and not always popular.
Helen Gurley Brown’s opinions were radical at the time and not always popular.

The other day as I was idling in the grocery store checkout line, I picked up a copy of Cosmopolitan Magazine prominently displayed with other magazines, chocolate bars and breath mints tempting me to make an impulse purchase. There was a time in the late sixties and early seventies when I would have never missed buying an issue of Cosmo. I remember once in 1968 all the girls in my office at Bell Telephone being outraged when Cosmo didn’t print for a couple of months because of some strike in the United States.

Boomer Broads will remember how Cosmo was our bible of reference material on how we should be living our lives. We were all familiar with and dutifully completed each month’s Cosmo quiz to determine if we were sexy-smart, financially stupid or whatever the issue of the month was. We loved the articles, the fashion, the book reviews and the advice but we particularly loved and admired Helen Gurley Brown (HGB) who referred to us as her Pussycats.

Helen Gurley Brown was the personification of everything we could be. She came from a poor family in Arkansas and from an early age was responsible for supporting her wheelchair-bound sister and chronically depressed mother. HGB started work right out of high school and worked at a series of low level secretarial jobs. Over the years she increased her skill-level and competency in business to eventually take over and turn around Cosmopolitan magazine making it every working girl’s touchstone and a cultural icon.

HGB was sometimes criticized for what people thought was her anti-feminist position because she advocated women pleasing men. She was certainly off the mark on some issues but she promoted and glorified power and choice for women. At a time when women were encouraged to remain virgins until marriage (this was the fifties and early sixties), HGB advocated that women also be allowed to enjoy the same kind of sexual freedom as men. Her book Sex and the Single Girl was de rigeur reading for any twenty-something Cosmo girl and was chock full of tips and advice on how to get the most out of life. I didn’t agree with her putting career ahead of everything else, but she was right about women being financially independent and asserting themselves in whatever they chose to do in life.

Helen Gurley Brown's opinions were radical and not always popular.
Helen Gurley Brown in her prime.

The Cosmopolitan Magazine I picked up the other day would not make Helen Gurley Brown proud. Its garish purple cover was cheesey and the cover model looked just plain slutty. Thumbing quickly through the pages, I was not impressed with the layouts, the articles or anything about the magazine. While the basic layout of the cover resembled HGB’s original plan with its single young woman and tantalizing headlines designed to pull us in, none of this was accomplished with the degree of artistic taste and fun inherent in Cosmo’s earlier incarnation. Forty years ago, the cover girls were also young and sexy but they were also classy and the content was informative and avante-guarde not salacious.

Helen Gurley Brown passed away two years ago this week at the age of ninety and I remember feeling somewhat bereft at hearing the news of her death. I used to love watching her being interviewed on talk shows as her opinions were always so controversial. She must be so disappointed in how her baby turned out. I pulled out a copy of The Late Show, her last book published in 1993 the other day just so I could enjoy once again her wisdom and insights. Although much of what she had to say is still valid and her words of advice stand up even today, she was definitely past her best-before date when Canadian Bonnie Fuller took over her job. As for today’s Cosmo, I’m not so sure Helen would be pleased.

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This #GIRLBOSS has her sh$# together

sophia4The first time I heard the name Sophia Amoruso was during a radio interview when she was promoting her new book, “#GIRLBOSS“. This 20-something young woman was describing her path to becoming owner of a highly-successful on-line retail fashion business called Nasty Gal. Her business smarts were remarkable for someone so young and my heart sang when she outlined her advice based on lessons learned that were so in-line with my own that I couldn’t wait to read her book.

Amoruso was the rebellious only child of baby boomers who grew up in San Francisco. Diagnosed with ADD, she was always swimming against the current and attended a different school nearly every year. Never a conscientious or cooperative student, she distinguished herself by wearing strange vintage clothing and generally resisting all efforts by her parents and teachers to conform.

sophia1Leaving home before finishing high school, Amoruso bounced around living the life of a young vagrant who managed to keep herself fed and clothed by dumpster diving and shoplifting. With a peculiar knack for sourcing and selling unique vintage clothing found at thrift and charity shops, she started selling her finds on eBay. This was the beginning of her understanding of the basic principles of work and reward, profit and loss.

Before long, she set up her own website for selling vintage merchandise and like most beginning entrepreneurs she did everything herself including buying, repairing, cleaning, merchandising, packing, and shipping her fashion finds herself. She soon recruited a friend to help and grew her business to 350 employees and annual sales in excess of $100 million in vintage and new clothing sales shipped to customers around the world.

sophia3Still only in her 20’s, Amoruso is an example worth paying attention to. Because she had no credit, her entire business was built on whatever income she generated, her own hard work, a genuine love for what she was doing and  turning the profits she made back into the business. There were no well-researched business plans, bank loans, fancy offices or early investors involved.

I loved the book. I endorse her philosophy. And I highly recommend her book. She’s a kind of anti-Sheryl-Sandberg example in that she had no educational or financial advantages. The business she created confirms that a successful career based on hard work, an original idea and perseverance can be achieved. Good fortune is earned and Amoruso used her own no-cost resources to become her own boss and a successful one to boot.

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Is an expensive education worth the investment?

Dr. Donna Kakonge is a highly-educated teacher, coach, mentor and author.
Dr. Donna Kakonge is a highly-educated teacher, coach, mentor and author.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar for aspiring writers at Spadina Library in downtown Toronto. The guest speaker was Dr. Donna Kakonge, author of 66 books. One of the audience members, a teacher with a Master’s Degree asked if it was recommended that she obtain additional education in order to further her writing ambitions. With a degree in journalism from Carleton University, a Master’s Degree from Concordia University, the University of London International Programmes Bachelor of Laws, an All But “approved” Dissertation (ABD) with the OISE | University of Toronto in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Development, Kakonge was particularly well-qualified to answer the question and her definitive answer was “no”.

We later had an interesting discussion about the payback for the cost of education. Kakonge’s personal experience is particularly relevant because she is far more educated that most people and recognizes the veiled marketing strategies employed by educational institutions to sell their product. Education definitely has value but it is also a business that needs to sustain itself. The past several decades have seen a remarkable growth in the level of education achieved by young people as well as working adults seeking to enhance their credentials.

debtFinancial advisor Suze Orman consistently discourages people from dipping into their retirement fund or borrowing money to finance their children’s education suggesting students take more responsibility for the cost. I agree with Kakonge that there comes a point where further education will not guarantee a better job. There are even employers who regard too much education as being out of touch with the realities of the business world. While this may not be the case when working in academia, it should be considered before borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for further education.

In his latest book, David & Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell takes this a step further and suggests that expensive Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Yale are possibly not worth the investment. Students who were top achievers in their local schools may become discouraged to find they are no longer top of their class in a prestige university teaching the crème de la crème. An excellent education can be achieved at a less expensive university.

As someone who often hired graduates when I was still working, I would often rely on interpersonal skills ahead of high marks in the hiring process. In fact, college graduates often had a better grasp of the working world than university graduates and frequently were the better choice. The bottom line is education alone is not the sole determinant in the success of the individual in the working world. Practical learning really begins on the job and personal skills and aptitudes are extremely important. Do the simple math and make your decision about whether to get that big student loan based on sound judgement about your return on investment. Education is also a business that needs to be fed. If you can afford it and like the work, then go for it.

On the other hand, do not let insufficient financial backing or lack of interest in education leave you feeling like a non-achiever. Some very successful people never finished college or university. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Peter Mansbridge, Rick Mercer and Diane Francis are examples of people who succeeded on their own merits. They worked hard and over the years built up their experience and credentials to achieve truly admirable levels of success in their fields.

When I retired I was Marketing Manager for an international corporation with annual sales in excess of $2 billion, a job that theoretically should have been held by someone with a minimum of a marketing degree and probably an MBA. I completed high school, took a few evening college courses and business seminars and created my own career by doing a variety of crappy jobs until I got into something I enjoyed doing, had an aptitude for and was given the chance by a very liberal employer to run with it. I’m a huge believer in learning on the job but you have to start somewhere and that’s never at or anywhere near the top. You have to earn your stripes by doing all kinds of less-than-desirable jobs to learn the basics such as showing up on time, doing your best regardless of the task, exceeding expectations, and learning about money management, deadlines and other basic job requirements.

Being too focused on one career goal from a young age can often result in young people not taking advantage of unplanned-for tangential employment opportunities that could grow into something wonderful. Engineers, lawyers and Chartered Accountants for example have the advantage of being marketable in professions other than their professional designation. When we Baby Boomers finished school, very few of us thought in terms of a career. We simply got a job and que sera sera. Many of us lucked into businesses such as advertising, construction, food services, trade work or product sales that we were totally untrained and unprepared for but we did our best, found a niche we liked and ultimately did well for ourselves. I’ll be writing more about this in future posts.

For a further perspective on the issue, read this recent piece in The Globe and Mail by Mark Kingwell, Professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.




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Let them eat cake . . .

There's a job opening in the Senate.
There’s a job opening in the Canadian Senate.

Our sisters in public service have gone rogue and it’s hurting not only our gender but the entire population. First it was Pamela Wallin and now it’s Alison Redford, former premier of Alberta and Susan Fennell, Mayor of Brampton. It seems that power is indeed intoxicating. Give a girl the keys to the castle and before long she’s raiding the pantry. These Marie Antoinette wannabe’s have brought shame on us all and I say off with their heads.

Former politician Bev Oda's terms in Ottawa was certainly worth her while.
Former politician Bev Oda’s term in Ottawa set her up with a nice little nestegg as a reward for misbehaving.

What really galls me is these people have no sense of remorse or shame in what they’ve done. They insist their actions are “misunderstood“. Bev Oda is now collecting in the neighbourhood of $700,000 from you and me, the taxpayers for her indiscriminate spending. That will buy her a lot of smoking rooms in pricey hotels. There seems to be no system for making these people accountable and to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of their offenses.

Every day new stories emerge of men and women who abuse their positions of trust and privilege in public service. Former Senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau have a list of misdeeds and illegal activities long enough to trip over. In a perfect world, the behavior of public servants should be above reproach. Their motives for seeking office should be noble and as taxpayers and citizens we should be able to trust them with the affairs of our country and the legitimacy of their expense accounts. Not so.

greedy1It’s obvious the key to wealth and privilege is no longer winning the lottery. I’ve thrown thousands of dollars already at that campaign without success but fortunately I now have a guaranteed solution to financial security and possibly a paid-for full-time hairdresser. I’m going to run for Parliament in some safe little rural community like the one I grew up in half-way between Toronto and Ottawa. After a mere six years of representing the good people of that riding, I will be endowed with a full pension for life and lots of free travel benefits for me, my honey and my Boomer girlfriends. I get to attend free barbecues, rib-fests and pancake breakfasts every weekend which means if I bring a bag I can take the leftovers home to eat for the rest of the week.

If I can sweet-talk the boss into making me a cabinet minister I also get a car and driver which means me and my girl posse can swill copious quantities of Ontario wine in the back seat of a limo without worrying about DUI issues. On special holidays I get to shake hands with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge which certainly warrants a trip to Holt Renfrew (can I expense that? – who cares.)

Another benefit is that I actually only have to show up for work in the “House”  for a few weeks each year. And all I’m required to do is periodically bang the desk with my perfectly manicured hand and wear a bright colour so my friends can see me on TV. I hear the members’ cafeteria is, if not free, at least really cheap as it’s subsidized by taxpayers. And I get a living allowance which means if I share accommodation with other porkers, I can pocket even more money for trips to Holts.

The future lies in public service.
The future lies in public service.

My heart beats faster just thinking about all the manna that would flow from being a public servant at the trough. And my mouth waters at the thought of all that free food, $16.00 glasses of freshly-squeezed orange juice that I don’t have to pay for and the cases of Jackson-Triggs at my disposal. I only wish I’d thought of this 40 years ago. I could have retired after “working” a mere six years. To pick up more money on the side and keep the gravy flowing, I could push for a set in the Senate.

So, my advice for Generation X and Y’ers who claim they can’t get a job after spending all those years getting useless degrees in Women’s Studies or Nineteenth Century Canadian Literature, run for Parliament. You’ll be rolling in dough, have an unbelievable pension, tons of free time, unlimited Canadian wine and of course, yummy little free cakes. I can taste it now.


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I’m sick sick sick of the KKK’s

kardWriters have always been advised and encouraged to write about what they know. Today, I’ve chosen to ignore that advice in order to vent about something I know very little about. Would someone please tell me what is so newsworthy about the Kardashian klan—Kris, Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, Kylie—the whole kkk-koven? As part of my research and to be fair to the perpetrators I decided to watch an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians on TV but that only added anger to my state of bewilderment. After 10 minutes I couldn’t take any more and switched channels. Sitting at the head of the table was an old surgically altered woman who goes by the name of Bruce Jenner who may or may not be in a lesbian relationship with Mama Kris. Mama K blessed the whole family and thanked the God of Greed and Great Glorification for her incredible good fortune and the invention of money and plastic surgery.

The rest of the show treated viewers to scenes of entitled, spoiled, insensitive family members whining about other entitled, spoiled, insensitive family members. All this was carried out while sitting aboard a massive yacht anchored somewhere exotic. Perhaps using the word insensitive is unfair. After all, people who do that much name-calling and bitching about their first-world woes must have a level of sensitivity that is higher and far more developed than my own. Otherwise, how could they claim any level of unhappiness living in a world that delivers them every material reward conceivable without actually having to work for it.

Papa K, who passed away in 2003 was best bud, assistant legal counsel and supporter of O.J. Simpson. The kids come from fine stock indeed. In fact, it’s rumoured that one of the little K’s (Kourtney?) was even fathered by Simpson. Credentials don’t come much better than that. The Jenner klan at one time also had their own reality series when Jenner spawn Brody and Brandon were the stars of The Princes of Malibu. At that time, Brody and Brandon’s mother Linda Thompson (ex-girlfriend of Elvis Presley) was married to our very own Canadian music producer David Foster who was step-fathering the spoiled Jenner boys. I also tried watching that but didn’t have the intestinal fortitude. Fortunately, Foster finally saw the light and dumped the ex-Mrs. Jenner. Whew!

I should have probably used some sort of genealogical flow chart to explain the icky interrelationships in the KKK Klan but that would give them more legitimacy than they deserve. Who is financing these people and their lavish lifestyle?  Marlene Arpe had a choice K-quote from Kendall in the Sunday Star, “I want to be taken seriously. People think that this (success) just came to me. But it didn’t.” Arpe’s, “I made the call to Mommy all by myself” says it all. It’s a made-in-America phenomenon that is a sad commentary on the state of the union. I’d like to think it just wouldn’t be korrect here. It’s not very Kanadian, eh!



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Elizabeth is Missing

elizabethFor a debut novel, Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is remarkable. The book combines understanding and empathy for dementia with mystery and suspense. Maud Horsham is in her 80’s and while still living in her own home with the assistance of her daughter and a daily caregiver, she struggles with the challenges of memory loss and confusion associated with geriatric dementia. She writes copious sticky notes to herself which she stuffs into her pockets to prompt her memory while her caregiver and daughter leave similar notes stuck to walls and doors around the house to help Maud retain a sense of reality and perspective.

When Maud cannot contact her only remaining friend, Elizabeth, she enters a world of fear, confusion and frustration when no one takes her concerns seriously. She has stopped by Elizabeth’s house, contacted Elizabeth’s son, gone to the police and even placed an ad in the local paper to help locate her friend. This loss is tumbled in her brain with the loss of her beloved only sister Suki after World War II, a disappearance that was never adequately explained.
The early half of the book was at times a bit slow as the reader wades through lengthy internal dialogues Maud engages in to try to make sense of her thoughts and actions. While I understand it is all part of setting the scene, I became frustrated at times with the lack of progress. This little stumble in my opinion is minor compared with the overall cleverness of the plot. It was a fast read and as it picked up momentum toward the end I couldn’t put it down. I’d give it eight out of 10.
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