I’ve been working on my book talks for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2014. I know it’s not happening until May, but time is flying these days and I don’t want to be caught short. While researching, I came across this article called “How Indian Women Are “Leaning In.” The cool thing about it is that it brings together Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Naina Lal Kidwai (HSBC), both featured in my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. I thought it was pretty neat that another writer linked these two women who come from such different backgrounds and work in different industries. It turns out that the article was adapted from the Indian version of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and it was written by Naina Lal Kidwai, not a journalist. Now that is very cool, indeed. Naina, as you may know from my book, was the first Indian woman to graduate from Harvard Business School — in 1982.
On another note, I just finished reading a novel called One Year in Coal Harbour by Polly Horvath. It’s the long-awaited sequel to the Newbery Honor Book Everything on a Waffle. What a fabulous, fabulous book! I devoured it in a day. I loved the protagonist, Primrose Squarp, and the interesting adult characters, including Miss Honeycut and Miss Bowzer. The author has a great feel for her target audience. There are some serious and heavy themes: foster kids, the death of two dogs, poverty issues, problems with “friends.” But there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to off-set the sober moments. Horvath’s images are utterly unique. She writes about a “bedrock of multiplication” (p. 2) and waves that are “bunched up and wrinkled” (p. 3). At one point Primrose’s mom recalls a “lady who lives on the outside of town” and writes poems about cats saying that “being a writer was like being a cross between a ditchdigger and a pit pony” (p. 20). Wow.
I was continuously amazed at the range of vocabulary Horvath used. Page 7 offers up “complicit,” page 8 features the word “staccato,” and by page 25 the word “ersatz” stands out as an anomaly in books. This is a book for middle schoolers. Then — I kid you not — on “heretofore” makes a bold appearance (p. 33) and later “ululation” (p. 128). Yes, I starting collecting these lovely words, jotting them down as I read.
A foster parent named Evie, who is wonderfully nurturing and down-to-earth, has a thing for putting mini marshmallows in everything she serves kids and teens. By the book’s end, I figured I’d never look at mini marshmallows in the same way. Interspersed through the book are recipes that hail from the 1970s: “Penuche with Mini Marshmallows,” “Gussied-Up Cinnamon Toast,” and “Polynesian Jell-O Salad,” to single out a few.
In short, One Year in Coal Harbour is a stylistic masterpiece, highly deserving of the 2013 TD Children’s Literature Award and many more. I strongly recommend this book.
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Work-life balance. Have you got it? Do you want it? Adrienne Montgomerie, an accomplished editor and member of Dameditors, posted a comment about what she calls “work-work-life balance.” She made a point of stating that this was not a typo. I felt compelled to weigh in. After all, three of the ten women profiled in Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs refute the work-life balance paradigm. During my phone interview with the dynamic and highly successful Sue Chen, CEO of Nova Medical Products in California, Sue admitted that at one point she searched online at Amazon.com for books about work-life balance. Sue was amazed at the results that she said numbered in the high thousands. (I tried and came up with 13,755 books.) Sue explained this hefty number saying, “No one’s figured out you just can’t do it!” So, is work-life balance an unachievable — indeed impossible — ideal? In Sue’s case, her response is, “just throw that out the window! Don’t try to achieve this work-life balance.” Instead, Sue Chen happily immerses herself in a chaotic stream of day-to-day duties. Life is always busy, her office is often messy, but tasks get completed and business is thriving. Somehow, amidst the chaos that she willingly embraces, Sue always looks glamorous and pulled together. She even squeezes in regular pedicures and lunch dates with friends. In fact, when I spoke with her she was looking forward to lunch with O.P.I.’s Suzi Weiss-Fischmann. Hmmm, a lunch date with a friend? Regular pedicures? I think I detect some luscious “life” creeping into her work-centred existence. That’s a good thing, of course.
Award-winning businessperson Kelsey Ramsden (CEO of Belvedere Place Development and founder of SparkPlay) acknowledges and appreciates the personal sacrifices working parents often make. About the notion that some successful women — namely entrepreneurial mothers — have it all, Kelsey says “that doesn’t exist! It’s a pipe dream.” Like Sue Chen, Kelsey says she’s “satisfied and happy with both parts of her life, but they’re never balanced. In any given moment, one requires more attention than the other.” OK, that makes sense to me.
In a video for the Makers series (produced by PBS and AOL), Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook is famously quoted saying: “So there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance.” I love that. Sheryl has a knack for delivering wonderfully pithy, high-impact comments. It’s no wonder her words resonate with many women. Indeed, we all look to leaders, high-profile executives, and daring entrepreneurs — our role models — for guidance on how to make it all work. We want to have our cake and eat it too, but something’s gotta give.
I don’t work 60-hour weeks, but, even so, I find life gets awfully busy. I thrive off the state of being busy, however, and try to carve out personal and family time. When the going gets tough, I listen to music and take lots of hot baths. My house gets messy, papers pile up, and laundry begs to be sorted; but three times a week — rain or shine, tired or energetic, in the face of a looming deadline or not — I walk to the pool for a swim workout. I swear that the lure of the water, and this well-established routine, helps keep me sane and makes me more productive. Sometimes I focus on my stroke; other times, however, I let my mind wander and “write” in my head. How could I better express that paragraph I was wrestling with today? What am I really trying to say? How can I best connect with my readers on this issue? It’s so satisfying to have those “aha” moments in the pool, while out walking, or during life-enforced “breaks.” I understand the value of breaks. They refresh and invigorate. They restore.
It often feels like every day is a push-pull between work and life. Most days, it feels like work is winning and Adrienne Montgomerie’s “work-work-life balance” rings true. If you are passionate about your work then this isn’t so terrible. Exercise some patience. Then, on another day, in another moment, a lovely shift takes place. “Life” is the focus in all its splendour, its ups and downs, its strong emotions, its heightened “moments of being.” At that point, work slides silently into the background and life pushes to the fore. Life-LIFE balance takes over. “Live in the moment.” “Seize the day.” (Carpe diem.) We all need to eke out some peace in our busy lives. Out of those peaceful moments come great ideas.
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