Friday, September 17, 2010


I’ve heard it said many times that women are natural flirts. That they are born able to flirt and are able to wrap people around their little, delicate fingers because of this.  In Forbes magazine, apparently, women are now being told to work their way to success through flirting, which seems a little backwards to me. Well, I am here to say, that I am a flirt-free zone. Yes, it’s true. I do not know how to flirt.

So how on earth has this anomaly happened? Is this not an anathema to womanhood? The inability to flirt.  If I were to go out with friends to a bar and if one of my friends said that a man kept looking at me, and that I should go over and flirt with him, I would not have the first clue as to what to do or say or anything.  I mean, yes, I have read the steps of intimacy and there are 12 of them:
  1. Eye to body
  2. Eye to eye
  3. Voice to voice
  4. Hand to hand
  5. Arm to shoulder
  6. Arm to waist
  7. Mouth to mouth
  8. Hand to head
  9. Hand to body
  10. Mouth to breast
  11. Hand to genitals
  12. Genitals to genitals
 Although with flirting, I think I’d probably stop at voice to voice.  It is, after all, just flirting not an all out seduction. I know the signs of flirting, even if (okay, when) I don’t recognize them at the time:
  1. Raised eyebrows—unconscious sign of interest on flirter’s part
  2. Eye contact—make and hold eye contact for significant amount of time; men will not hold the gaze of a woman he isn’t attracted to
  3. Hair flick—women often do this, sometimes unconsciously
  4. Playing with accessories—women play with earrings, twirl hair, fiddle with necklaces; men play with ties, jingle change in pants pocket
  5. Leaning in—nonverbal message the he/she wants to be closer
  6. Active listening—turn body towards other person, make eye contact, nod, show other signs of actively listening to what is said
  7. Open body language—invitation
  8. Sideways glance—demure glances, strong sign of flirting
  9. Looking at lips or body parts—sometimes an unconscious sign of flirting
  10. Laughter—laughing at jokes, silly or unfunny
  11. Light touches—touching someone’s arm, knee, or shoulder shows interest
  12. Ignoring cell phone—purposely ignoring or turning off the cell phone sends signal that he/she is more interested in the other person than whoever might be calling
But as for putting these things into action, I just don’t get it. When I look at the signs of flirting in this list, I think I do most of these all the time except for the touching part because I don’t touch people that I don’t know very well. No, I don’t have some kind of phobia about germs or anything. It’s just that touching somebody is invading their personal space and unless I have a very clear flashing neon sign saying it’s okay to do so, I am not comfortable with it. I hardly ever use my cell phone so that doesn’t count. I do not stare at body parts, i.e. I don’t stare at a man’s crotch. I think that’s just as rude as a man who stares at a woman’s boobs. And I don't laugh at things that aren't funny.

I always look people in the eye when speaking to them. I try to be friendly. I do play with my hair and jewelry routinely but especially when I am nervous but that doesn’t speak towards flirting. So it is quite possible that someone thinks I am flirting with him, when in fact I am just being me. It seems that flirting is about sociability and being open to possibilities.

I think the other part of flirting comes with confidence in yourself and, in a woman’s case, your femininity. It never actually occurs to me that someone is interested in me unless it is in blinking neon lights—even then sometimes I will miss it entirely and someone has to point out. I don’t think of myself as being ultra feminine. I don’t wear pretty pink except on my fingernails every once in a while. My voice is not what could be described as melodious.  I don’t faint – okay, I’ve fainted a few times but that has been very rarely when I’ve been ill. I’m not particularly afraid of insects. I don’t freak out when I see an ant or spider or even a cockroach. Although cockroaches gross me out because they’re filthy creatures but I’m not afraid of them per se. This past summer I had a black rat snake wrapped around my neck, which I found quite interesting instead of horror-inducing. I travel on my own. I do what I want when I want.  I’m highly logical and analytical, which seems to be at odds with the image of a romance writer but… there it is. So I’m not, and have never been, a girly girl.  But does that mean that I’m not feminine? I don’t think so. I think my brand of femininity is more subtle, for lack of a better term.  Growing up in my household, sciences and math were emphasized over softer subjects such as English and social studies.

My poor father ended up with three daughters all going through puberty at the same time, but he and my mother were determined that we would be independent women. That we would be able to do anything, within reason, that a man would be able to do. Obviously, the same physical strength is not possible— I need help opening jars. But having functional brains in logical subjects was emphasized. There wasn’t much emphasis placed on more feminine stuff. I call it feminine stuff because I don’t know what else to call it—getting Cosmo magazines, getting makeovers, having pedicures and manicures, etc. Talking on the phone forever every single night. Giggling with girlfriends over Playgirl magazines.

In fact, growing up in our house we did not have any kind of magazine delivered until I was probably ten. My mother worked so that my father could start his business, while he worked a full-time job, and I always was very proud of this. My mother was a “working woman” and she didn’t have time for inconsequential things like frivolous magazines. I was so floored when they finally started getting Maclean’s magazine delivered—LOL! For those of you who don’t know, Maclean’s magazine is a news magazine like Newsweek or Time. But it was a magazine nonetheless and I have to say that I was kind of disappointed that my mother would stoop to ordering a magazine. So you can see that perhaps my upbringing wasn’t as traditional as it might have been. Not that I’m complaining.

But what is femininity? This is something that came up in the past couple weeks over one of my posts on Facebook. And when someone brought up this topic of women being feminine and that femininity is a good thing, I really didn’t know in which way I was feminine.  I wear makeup every day, or at least when I leave the house.  I wear skirts sometimes. My hair is long. I do not wear high heels because those things screw up your natural body alignment; they wreck your back, neck, shoulders, knees, ankles and feet. The maximum heel that I will wear is about one inch. In other words, I try to make the most of what I’ve got without killing myself. But I’m not one of these giggly people who spends hours in front of a mirror and has to have her makeup flawless at all times.

I would rather put work into more than just external appearances. I want to be able to understand and like the person that I am. I want to be able to develop myself as a human being, and a good human being at that. No, I don’t neglect the outside. But yes, I believe in the importance to develop one’s intellect, understanding of the world and understanding of oneself. Is that unfeminine? Nietzsche said that stupidity in a woman is unfeminine—something that I agree wholeheartedly with. But stupidity is not just in the things that you can’t see at first glance; stupidity is also in the outward manifestations of a human being, which includes their appearance and behavior.

So in my quest to find out what exactly femininity was, I decided I would Google it. Femininity, on a lot of these websites, seems to be for women who desire to be laid out like a doormat for her man. Obviously I don’t agree with this version of femininity.  I think Audrey Hepburn had a very nice viewpoint, even in these times for modern women. I don’t think she was talking about femininity in particular, but I do think she was talking about being an attractive human being, which is different than being outwardly attractive. She said, "For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness, For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people, For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry, For Beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day, For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others." I think we can all agree that Audrey Hepburn was a very feminine woman. She had an ephemeral grace about her and a regal but welcoming demeanor. And even though her heyday was 50 or so years ago now, let’s say, I don’t think she’s any less relevant now than she was in her own time.

So I think I will take this quote as my version of femininity. I may not always live up to that standard of being feminine but I think it is something that I can strive for. And in the end, isn’t being true to oneself but the most important thing? I’m not going to pretend that I am a pink-loving, giggling lady who loves tea and crumpets.  But I’ll tell you some of those pink-loving, giggling women who love tea and crumpets are vicious people. My version of femininity isn’t as obvious as some but it is something I am comfortable with, something that I am pleased to strive for.

So regardless of my flirtless state, which may not be as hopeless as I think, I believe I qualify as being feminine. I think every woman has to define what is feminine for her, what feels right for her, and not be guided by what some insipid website says is feminine. Being feminine is just as much about the inside as it is about the outside, if not more. One can look as feminine as all get-out, and still not be feminine. Feminine does not mean stupid or witless. I think each gender has unique gifts in their repertoire. If we were all the same it would be pretty boring. And I like men to be men. I don’t appreciate it when women try to be men—I realize that this is a part of feminism whereby women try to be taken seriously but I don’t think men take women more seriously when women act and dress like men. I think people respect others who are brave enough to be what they are, as they are, regardless of gender.

Friday, September 10, 2010

All You Have to Fear is Fear Itself

Yesterday, I was corresponding with a friend looking for information on how to do a public reading in front of a live audience. I’ve never done a reading in front of an audience but on November 2nd, I will be doing just that.  The Prana Café and Teahouse in Toronto is going to host my very first public reading. I’ve been doing readings on the radio but those were a little different. Doing a reading in front of a group of people I don’t know is somewhat intimidating.

 My friend congratulated me on doing this, saying that most people wouldn’t do something that scared them. When I first became published, I made a decision to say yes to any promotional opportunities that came along and, with one exception, I’ve done exactly that. Even though every time I’ve done one of these promo opportunities it has scared me to death.  

The problem is these days that writers are expected to have a number of personalities. One is the writing personality who is an introvert. Writing is not something that I can do with somebody else.  All of it comes from somewhere within and I dump it out into the computer. The other personality is the one that’s supposed to know how to deal with people, how to do readings and how to look confident and comfortable doing everything. It’s a dichotomy, and it’s one that every published writer these days has to deal with.

It’s not just in writing where this expectation has happened. I’ve been in information technology for many years. I started off as a computer programmer and I’ve done just about every job in information technology. It used to be, as a programmer, that you could hide in your cubicle and nobody bothered you as long as you were doing your job. Now, technical people are expected to have excellent soft skills as well. Companies want their technical people to not only be technically proficient but be able to relate to other people. There are places for pure technical people but, more and more, technical people are expected to be more than just technical. They are expected to be socially well adjusted and not scratch or adjust their privates in public.  Most women don’t do this but some men still haven’t caught this part of social etiquette. But aside from the very obvious like this, social skills are vital.

I have never considered myself an outgoing person. But since being published and doing signings, doing interviews and doing all the external things related to writing, I’ve learned how to be more comfortable in social settings. I’ve learned how to reach out to people to a certain extent. I’ve learned how to be more outgoing and confident in myself. I attribute that to directly to the peripheral writing activities.

The thing is with fear, unless there is a very real possibility of being physically hurt, it’s all in your head. People will say they can’t do something whether that’s public speaking or traveling by themselves or meeting new people or any number of things. But what they are actually saying is that they don’t have the guts to try, that they won’t do certain things because they’re afraid.

I think with fear you have to break it down. Some of the questions I ask myself when something scares me are:
1)    Am I going to be physically hurt?
2)    How realistic are my fears? I mean, are people going to throw rotten fruit at me at this reading? Are people going to start laughing at me? Are they going to be unkind, are they going to hate me? Am I going to lose my voice suddenly? (At the first public speaking event I did a number of years ago, I actually did lose my voice because I was so nervous. Perhaps some people at this point would have thought, oh my God, that is the worst thing ever to happen and I’m never doing that again; my thinking was, okay, the worst happened, it will only get better from here. And it did).

When I look at things this way, I realize that very few things are actually going to harm me. In fact, doing these things will help me. I have what I call the “bubble theory of life”. My bubble theory of life is that life is like a big elastic balloon. If you’re not pushing on the balloon from the inside, breathing life into it, pretty soon your balloon turns into a straitjacket and you can’t do anything—you have allowed your fears to immobilize you. So, breathing air/activities into your balloon expands your boundaries.

I’m not talking about throwing yourself off a building or mountain climbing. I’m not talking about things that could possibly hurt me because quite honestly I have a fear of heights and I’m quite comfortable with that fear. J Now some people could turn around and say well your bubble theory of life says that you should be throwing yourself out of an airplane and they could be right, but I really don’t see any point in doing that. It doesn’t help me. So it’s not a priority for me. 

What is a priority for me is anything that will help me in my day-to-day life. I try to be pragmatic about the things I do. Everything is for a purpose. If I need to do something to get to where I want to go, then I’ll do it.  I’m also not talking about the things that I have to do as opposed to the things I want to do. Having fun is just as pragmatic as being responsible. Everyone needs a balance for good mental health and an enjoyable life.

So instead of turning down opportunities and adventures because they scare you, give it a shot and just say yes. Yes, I will do that. Yes, I will go there. Yes, I will do that public reading. Because after all, you only get one shot at life and you might as well make the most of it.

I hope that I will see some of you at my first public reading of Pitch Dark. The Prana Café & Teahouse is located at 2130A Queen Street East, on the corner of Queen and Hammersmith in The Beaches in Toronto. The date is Tuesday, November 2, 2010, the time is 6:30pm - find a seat, schmooze and order one of their fabulous coffees.  The readings begin at 7:00pm.