Stories worth considering, Uncategorized

The Fairy Tale Ending; the beginning of the end?


I have to confess, I have wasted somewhere around 12+ hours watching The Bachelor this season on ABC.  Why? Well, good question.

Ostensibly, the show is about watching one man search through 25 “beautiful” (which really starts to make you question the meaning of that word) women, to find true love ending in the ever lusted after “proposal.”  At least that’s what the women lust after: their fairy tale ending.

This phrase is batted around The Bachelor with careless and casual abandon, almost exclusively by the women. Often through tears in the back of limo after being “sent home.”  Noticeably, many of the women on that mournful journey say the same things:  Why is this happening to them?  Why are they getting rejected?  What’s wrong with them? When is their time going to come?  Where is their fairy tale ending?

Endings are important, and we do like the good ones. Kind of. The show ends with the chosen woman finally getting to hear the Bachelor confess his love.  Ahh, it could be us.  But part of the appeal of the Bachelor is not only the so called happy ending, it’s the recognition that all of us, no matter how beautiful still get rejected, and it just so happens, it is kind of about our failings.  We’re boring, we’re self-absorbed, we’re dull, we lack talent, humor, the willingness to go bungy jumping in New Zeland, and frankly, we don’t look that good in a bikini.  But even if we did all those things, even if we were that “beautiful” the Bachelor would still probably reject us. Statistically speaking.

It was a happy moment for Melissa when Jason Meznik chose her at the end of this season’s show.  She finally got her fairly tale ending.  Until six weeks later when Jason, ambivalent and weepy, unable to find the, well, balls to either “fight for the relationship” with Melissa or forget about Molly broke up with Melissa on national TV.

The most hated Bachelor in television history, the tabloids claimed the next day.  You’re a bastard, said Melissa during the breakup, in a moment of utter candor.

Ryan and Tristan are a still married couple from an early season (maybe the first) of The Bachelorette.  “I got my fairy tale ending,” said Tristan, barely finishing the sentence before her husband cut her off.

“Well,” he said, “the end of the show was really the beginning of our real relationship.  We have to work to make it work.”

Melissa’s fairy tale ending ended as most fairy tales do, at the beginning of something real and something tough. Unfortunately for her, she was trying to do the work with a guy who didn’t have it in him.  And “he’s making a big mistake” Molly, of the big beautiful eyes and the shocked smile when Jason asked for her back; Molly won’t put up with his bull for long, I suspect.  “What about Melissa,” she asked with a shake of her head.

The best endings resonate in ways that both satisfy and satiate.  They find that illusive spot and tug.  There is usually little of fairy tale about them.  And endings, at least for the characters living them, are the beginnings of something else and thank goodness for that.

In the limo, on her final tearful ride home, Melissa said, “I don’t understand why this happened, but I’m sure that someday, I’ll be able to look back and I’ll say, okay I see why this happened to me.”

It turns out that tonight, there is an After The Final Rose part 2, where we get to check in with Jason and Molly. What happened? Did Molly take him back?  Did they rekindle their love?

How does it end?  I won’t be watching.

Note:  Quotes from the show are paraphrased to give the gist but are not exact.


Tracy, We Hardly Knew Ye

In life, it’s natural to try to avoid pain and suffering. That makes intuitive sense and yet, what a boring story that would be.  Obstacles, difficulties, trauma, these are essential parts of interesting stories.  We like to see how those things can be overcome or dealt with by our favorite protagonists.  And then we like to relate. Or feel superior, or grateful.

Failure, too.  If you’re like me, you try to avoid failing as if it were warm gum on the sidewalk.  But it turns out that the most successful people are those who see failure as a chance to learn something, try again, or become successful.  They don’t say to themselves: you miserable idiot, you’ve messed that up pretty badly. They say: hey, I see I really need to improve on this, and now I know how!  And then they do.  They welcome failure.

And as of last night, so do I.

I consider myself a good dancer.  I took ballet and various modern/jazz as a I kid.  I have, what you could call, natural rhythm.  In high school, I learned how to swing dance and I’ve never forgotten it.  Several months ago, I took a swing dance class with Richard Powers amidst the fading southern light, worn wooden floors and airy old locker rooms of Stanford’s Roble Studio.  Richard is the intellectual’s dance teacher.  He’s got history, he’s got knowledge, and he’s got a smooth step. At Stanford, so hungry are the students for dance partners that men will dance with men, which for me, conjured up images of what I imagine Yale must have been like before it went coed.  Time reversed.

A couple months ago, I took a two hour waltz lesson at Friday Night Waltz (FNW) in Palo Alto, and fell in love. There is possibly nothing more romantic that waltzing, and like very few other things in life, it doesn’t even matter who you’re dancing with as long as he can lead.  Waltzing engages the brain and body with life and on every level, physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual; it’s transcendent, also like very few things in life. It’s the story of your life, as avidly and heartwrenchingly as you could ever tell it, all without words.

Last night, I went back to FNW.  Set in a church gymnasium, the most motley of motley of crews: students, scientist and engineers and the like, all of whom, improbably, know how to dance.  There’s something about a guy in the old cliched high water pants and thick glasses who can turn you on the dance floor that really boggles the mind.

Richard was teaching, so the class was crowded.  He started it promptly on time, as is his way. He taught, for beginners, the Grand Polonaise, Irish Kerry Polka Sets, 5/4 dances, Waltz Swing and Salty Dog Rag. Then he said, if you know the waltz, you can stay up here where we will be learning pivots, or if you’re a beginner, go downstairs to learn the polka.  In fact, in this email he had written, “The Canter Pivot class will probably start at 8:10.  Canter Pivots are full 360 pivots done in a 3-count waltz measure.  The art and skill lies in leading and following them.  Pre-requirement: knowing how to do a Rotary Waltz or clockwise Viennese waltz.  If you don’t, you can move to Tom’s introductory class.”

But I wanted to learn Canter Pivots and hadn’t I taken that beginning waltz class just a few months ago?  I had.  So I stayed and needless to say, I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to dance the pivots.  I really could only barely remember the proper waltz let alone the Viennese version.  It wasn’t only that I couldn’t dance them (which, because I was following, I though I might be able to do) it was that I couldn’t even figure out what was going on.  Even the basic mechanisms eluded me and I spent a good deal of the evening apologising to my partners and feeling more and more like a failure, and a pathetic one at that. How did all these people know how to do this?  And if I didn’t feel useless enough, there was Tracy.

Tracy Powers is Richard Powers’ younger and astonishingly beautiful wife who rarely smiles.  She’s got dark, soft-looking features, and a dancer’s aloofness.  It’s hard, when you watch them demonstrate together, not to imagine her as his student bewitching him into abandoning whatever life he had to travel around the world teaching dance with her, which they now do.  Maybe it’s the look in her eye as she watches him talk, seemlessly adjusting her body to make whatever point he’s explaining.  She’s a difficult person not to watch, and she moves with the effortlessness that years of training and hard work can provide.  And yet, she never smiles, which makes her even more achingly compelling.  I imagine her, a lonely and distant child, with the same swollen lips and lilting step.  When I danced with her last night (which sometimes happens in between lessons for a brief moment if there aren’t enough partners), she was still completely unsmiling, looking me right in the eye, and yet, the perfect lead–the only person I danced with all night who kept their carriage firm and supportive, and all without seeming to work at it.

Which only deepened my feelings of cataclismic failure.  Why hadn’t I just gone downstairs with the other beginners?  Why have I not dedicated every spare childhood moment to dancing so that I too could spin gracefully around the floor, swept by various men of science often several inches short than I?

I knew not.

And so, this morning, I am resolved not to feel bad or embarrassed about my performance last night, ashamed to ever show my face in the FNW gym again, but resolved to find the time, to spend the energy, to learn the waltz, and to know the feeling of turning on the floor in a pivot, counter pivot.  I have not failed; I have seen the path which I now know I must travel.  Richard said the waltz is his favorite dance, explaining how it felt to move with another person in a weight balanced spin.  He didn’t use the word perfection, but we all knew what he meant. Women love to spin, he said to a classroom laugh, and Tracy just watched him without nodding.


the early years

Yesterday, my daughter M told her very first story.  

She was holding a small yellow plastic bear meant for the bath and as she walked it along the edge of the tub she said, “One day, I was an antelope but I used to be upside like a bat.”  Here she turned the bear upside down and looked up at her audience for response. I nodded with a smile.

Then she let the bear float in the water and she said softly to herself, “Then you were floating on your tummy and I was kicking you.”  She kicked the water, lost interest, and picked up a toy frog.

It was short, but there was something compelling about it.  Good start, kid.


MFA is the new MBA

I say that just a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Because we love our MBAs.

BUT, the power and the importance of “the story” in business and especially in marketing is starting to take center stage. The impact of language in the service of creating a feeling and imparting a message cannot be overstated. I give you the transformation of the word Hebrew into the hip magazine Heeb as an example. It’s only one word, and yet, it’s a new world.

Often overlooked content is now being considered a quick and effective fix for a website in need of updating. Not to knock design, we need that too. But content is often easier and quicker to fix, and equally, if not more powerful.

And who better than an expert in the art of narrative, a person experienced with expressing and conveying subtle psychological feeling and nuance in words; we’re more than just writers, we’re masters in fine art.

The Four Truths of the Storyteller