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Archive for May, 2010

Organic Kingdom

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

By Jian Ping 

Turkey King

Last weekend, my husband Francis and I went to King’s Hill Farm at Mineral Point, Wisconsin, the organic farm we had visited several times over the last three years. We were very pleased to see that Jai and Joel Kellum, who have been managing the farm, have transformed the place into an organic kingdom!

We were greeted by four dogs and half a dozen large turkeys as we pulled up to the farm house from the long gravel driveway. The colorful male turkey, with a few females surrounding him, flared up his feathers as if to show off his beauty. I was amazed they were all running around, totally free.  

Jai and Joel came out of the green house where they had been working flats of seedlings. They proudly showed us around the farm. We stopped first at a fenced area where more than 100 chickens (a variety of species), baby turkeys, geese and ducks were kept. They were all fed with organic food. Seeing a group people step into their territories, they made loud noises as if a chorus singing out of tone. The geese outperformed all others. Two dozens of baby turkeys were the size of full grown chickens and mingled in their pen. They followed Jack, an intern who had fed them for the last two months, and didn’t hesitate to pick food out of his hands. Later, when we stood in front of the farm house, three of the small turkeys flew over the five-foot tall wire fence and landed at Jack’s feet.

Joel with his big pet

Down the creek not far from the house, two large pigs avoided the heat under the shade of the trees. Joel proudly padded them as if they were his favorite pets. The sow was very pregnant, and the boar, over 300 pounds, settled at the edge of the water to keep cool.

Out in the fields, a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruit trees covered the ground in neat rows—green onions, spinach, rhubarbs, swisschards, cilantro, lettuce, tomatoes, gooseberries, strawberries…. It was a lovely sight.  We also stopped by the beehives and the wooded area where piles of tree logs were lined up to grow mushrooms.

To me, the beauty of them all: everything is raised organic!

We were planning to return to the farm for another visit even before we took our leave.

Organic produce from King’s Farm are available at several farmers markets in the Chicago area. Check out http://kingshillfarm.com for details of location and time.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com for more information.

YELLOW-TAG DAY AT THE GOODWILL STORE

Friday, May 21st, 2010

by Nancy Werking Poling

author of OUT OF THE PUMPKIN SHELL

My husband and I were about to leave for our first trip to Italy. I’d purchased two of Rick Steves’ books and combed through numerous travel magazines. In one I read an article on sensible packing. Take clothes you don’t particularly like, the article recommended, then leave them in your hotel room. The maid will find a use for them, and on your return flight you’ll have suitcase space for all your purchases.

Looking through my closet, though, I found nothing I’d be willing to leave behind and practically no possibilities for mixing and matching, as several other magazines recommended. Hence an excursion to the Goodwill Store.

The warehouse-type building I entered reminded me of a cluttered attic. To my left pieces of furniture were tightly packed, with chairs on top of dressers, end tables turned upside down on sofas. Men’s clothing lay straight ahead, children’s wear in the very back of the store, women’s wear to my right.

On the women’s side, there was barely room to pass between the chrome racks jammed with hangers. I quickly began to sort through the skirts—ones made of polyester, wool, cotton, some fabrics plain, some with floral patterns. Short skirts, long ones, in-between lengths.

I paused to stare at an oversized polyester skirt with gold and rust leaves against a navy blue background. Maybe it had belonged to the woman I’d read about in the beauty salon a few days earlier, in the article titled, “I Lost a Hundred and Fifty Pounds.” This could be the before skirt, the one Sharon wore on that decisive day she walked her oldest son to school and heard his classmates snickering and whispering “fat” and “pig.” Coming home and facing herself in the mirror, she told herself, “I hate this skirt, I hate myself.”

Still fingering its hem, I considered Sharon’s later satisfaction as she dropped the skirt and others like it into the metal dumpster near her home, her triumph over being rid of the hundred and fifty pounds, rid of the extra person she’d come to despise. As she pulled back the handle of the drop box, she loved herself, took pride in her accomplishment. And according to the magazine article, her son was proud of her now. Her husband, too, looked at her with new affection.

Triumph for Sharon, defeat for the woman who would buy the skirt.

I rapidly pushed several more hangers along before stopping to consider a fashionable beige skirt of linen—much too small for me—that looked as if it had hardly been worn. Why would a woman get rid of it? Valerie was going to New Orleans to see her boyfriend, I decided. She found the skirt and a matching jacket, probably over on another rack, on sale at an upscale department store. But when she got home from her trip, she realized how pale she looked in beige and pushed the outfit to the back of her closet.

One day she read if you haven’t worn an article of clothing in a year, you should get rid of it. Recklessly she tore through her wardrobe, pulling pants and skirts and blouses off the hangers, heaping clothes on the bedroom floor. She paused when she came to the skirt and jacket. For a moment she contemplated returning it to the closet. She had such fond memories of the weekend in New Orleans; the boyfriend would soon become her husband. No, the outfit must go.

After trying on several articles in the cramped, curtained dressing room, I settled on several. As I headed toward the cash register, glistening gold flecks emanating from a piece of elegant brocade caught my eye. It was a floor length robe—no, a coat. Handmade in the Orient, I was sure; never worn, I was equally certain. Five dollars, the tag said.

Who could possibly have given up such a lovely garment? A woman I named Michelle. Searching for a gift to take home from China, her husband stepped into a small sewing shop, where an old man leaned over a treadle machine. After the husband selected fabric, the man inquired about the wife’s size. The husband put his hand to his chin, then with his arms formed a circle to demonstrate her girth.

When he arrived home with the gift, it was much too tight around the shoulders, but dutifully Michelle kept it packed away in a garment bag. Later, when they went through a painful divorce, she hated everything that reminded her of him. She gave the coat, along with souvenirs of India and Japan, to Goodwill.

By the time my expedition was over, my arms were overflowing with clothes: a skirt, three tops, two pairs of pants, the brocade coat, plus a light sweater I might need if Italian evenings were cool. I imagined myself sipping cappuccino in a Venetian restaurant, wearing the navy pants and simple white knit top, the sweater hanging down my back, its sleeves loosely tied across my chest. And there was a quick glimpse of myself at one of next year’s Christmas parties, wearing the brocade coat over black velvet pants and a black sweater.

As I dropped all of my selections on the counter by the cashier, she informed me that on Tuesdays everything with a yellow tag was fifty percent off. Each item I’d selected bore a yellow tag, which meant that the cost of two bags of clothes, including the Chinese coat, totaled less than fifteen dollars. I was beaming with satisfaction.

As I turned to leave the register, my arms wrapped around the bags of clothes, I nearly tripped. I looked down. A young woman with matted light brown hair, her pink blouse soiled and wrinkled, sat on the floor. Spread across one of her outstretched legs was a pale blue dress. Scattered in front of her were nickels, dimes, and quarters. As she pushed each coin to the side, one at a time, she counted aloud: “One dollar and ten cents, one dollar and fifteen cents, one dollar and…”

Memories of the trip to Italy have faded. Yet I clearly remember nearly tripping over the young woman on the floor of the Goodwill Store.

I think it’s because the brief encounter jolted my carefree attitude. While I was getting a kick out of finding clothes to leave behind on a European vacation, she barely had enough money to buy a single, previously owned dress. I could light-heartedly empathize with Sharon and Valerie and Michelle, who in my imagination were middle-class women like me, but when I looked down at this real woman on the floor I was startled. She wasn’t like me, and I didn’t consider the possibility that she had a name and a story too.

Years later I rewrite the script: When I see the young woman in my path, I recognize our connectedness and drop to the floor. A dirty floor, repugnant to middle-class sensitivities. I don’t care.

I sit down beside her. I ask her name.

But the truth is, I didn’t.

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Filming Mulberry Child in China (final)

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

By Jian Ping

The time we spent in Baicheng, the small town where I grew up, was the most difficult.

The week before our arrival, my sister Yan had made a special trip to Baicheng, checking out the sites we needed to film and selecting a hotel (after visiting most of the reputable hotels in town) for us. Minutes after we checked into the hotel, Susan and Quyen started coughing, and my eyes began tearing up—I had been coughing all along because of a cold. There was no non-smoking room in the hotel and the chemicals used in the construction (it was a newer hotel) lingered in the rooms and hallways. Susan, who had athma, took out her inhaler immediately.

Mushroom for Hot Pot

We started working early the next day. The moment we were outdoor, the sand and dust swirled up by the strong wind whipped at us. Quyen had to replace her contact lens with her regular glasses. Memories of fighting against the wind as a child flashed back—I used to use a thin scarf to wrap around my head to prevent sand from getting into my eyes. I looked around and saw one girl wearing a silk scarf in the same manner.  

“We have two winds here each year,” Yan said to Susan. “Each lasts for six months.”

Susan laughed despite herself.   

We filmed late into the night that day, and treated ourselves to a good hot pot dinner, with a variety of green vegetables, mushroom and two large plates of thinly sliced beef.

We filmed two more days in Baicheng and Changchun and received warm reception and help from many locals. A number of incidents worked out so well that we couldn’t have planned better! Both Susan and Quyen were touched by the openness and friendliness of the people we met and filmed.

“This trip has changed my view on China,” Susan said. “I was dumb to believe in the biased opinions about China before.”

I was very happy about the result of our trip!

Yan, Wen and me play mahjong with Mother

I stayed with my mother for one more day after the departure of the crew. My mother loved playing mahjong and usually, there were not enough people to set up the game. That evening, my sisters and I played with her. She was as quick and sharp as ever before. I made her laugh throughout the evening by making faces and desperate gestures—I lost nearly all my chips to her.

It was an evening of fun and joy with family that I knew I would relish for a long time.

To prevent Mother from feeling sad about my departure, I promised her that I would visit her again before the end of the year.

I will.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

Filming Mulberry Child in China (5)

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Sugar coated sweet potato, "Ba Si Di Gua"

We worked feverishly in Changchun and Baicheng, filming all the footage that Susan intended to have and more. We also shared many fun and memorable moments.

One of those was a lunch at a restaurant half a block away from where my mother lived in Changchun. It was a “meat restaurant,” a neighborhood place where the food was reasonably priced and the wait staff friendly. I ordered many vegetarian entrees for our group: eggplant with green pepper, my favorite; tofu with bean sprouts and clean noodles, Quyen’s newly found favorite; rice with stir-fried eggs and deep-fried sweet potato coated in sugar, two dishes that Alex’s life depended on; and the long string beans that Lisa loved; and home fries, with additional order of pumpkin fries that Susa relished; and a large plate of spinach stir-fried with garlic. My nephew ordered more dishes with meat. When all was said and done, we found ourselves faced with a large table of entrees the style of a feast, all at a cost less than 300 RMB, about $45!

“This is the best meal we’ve had in China,” Susan said. She asked if this was one of the best restaurants in town.  

Something else, however, also caught Susan’s attention—she loved the wait staff uniform. The slim-cut, high collar uniform in red and black, with white stripes, looked very smart on the boys and girls who ran around the dining room serving customers.

“Do you think I can buy one from them?” she asked me.

I talked with a waiter, who called the manager. I noticed many of the wait staff smiled as they looked toward our table. They were also murmuring among themselves. They must have been amused by this curious, friendly foreigner.

Susan, the wait staff captain

When the waiter I talked with returned 20 minutes later, he handed Susan a brand new uniform in a clear plastic bag.

“Courtesy of our restaurant,” he said in response to Susan’s inquiry of price. “We hope to see you again.”

“Xiexie! Xiexie!” Susan’s pronunciation of thank you in Chinese was perfect. Then, she stood up and surprised us all by putting on the uniform and beginning to clear the plates from the table.

“What else would you like to have?” she asked with a big smile.

We all applauded.

We did come back to the restaurant again for another meal two days later.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com for more information.

Filming Mulberry China in China (4)

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

by Jian Ping

My mother at interview with Susan

I knew I was home the moment I stepped out of the luggage area at the Changchun Airport to the welcoming arms of my brother-in-law Ming Fu and my nephew Xiao Tao. If it was not due to limited seats in the two vehicles, my sisters would have come to the airport as well.  

Witnessing our association with my family members, Susan decided to postpone dinner and go with Lisa and me straight home to catch our family greetings on film. I tried to dissuade her—it would be 9:30 P.M. by the time we got to my mother’s apartment and everyone was hungry. Susan wouldn’t hear any of that. I admired Susan’s dedication to work and called home, informing them we’d stop by to say hi first.

To avoid distraction, Susan and her daughter Alex, the two blonds, stayed in the car while Quyen, a Vietnamese American born and raised in the U.S., accompanied Lisa and me to my mother’s apartment. A household of people–my mother, my sisters Yan, Ping and Wen, and my brother-in-law Zhicheng, were all waiting for us. An uproar of cheers erupted with the opening of the door. When I eventually stood in front of my mother, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Mother, 83 this year, had diabetes and was suffering from dangerously high blood pressure, 200/110 mmHG that day. I was worried about her. But she looked strong and radiant. We gazed at each other, hugged, and looked at each other again. Despite my effort at control, I couldn’t stop the surging tears when Mother pulled me tightly into her arms again.  

From left to right: Lisa, me, my mother, Yan and Ping, looking at family photo album

After an emotional greeting of 20 minutes or so, we rushed to a nearby restaurant and barely had enough time to put in our order before the kitchen closed for the day. My nephew and two brothers-in-law waited for us in the front while we had our dinner, then drove the group to their hotel and took me home–we left Lisa there to be the group’s interpretor. In the following two days, they made themselves available to drive us around for filming.

“I like Chinese men,” Susan said. “They bend over to serve women.”

I smiled. I wanted to say that everyone in my family was bending over to help us—to ensure we finish our mission of filming in China without any problem! I knew they had their concerns about the content of the film, but despite themselves, they gave me and the entire crew their utmost support. I felt overwhelmingly lucky and blessed.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

Filming in Mulberry Child in China (3)

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

by Jian Ping

Before writing more about filming in China, I’d like to share a few laughs.

A warning sign at Great Wall

Here is a picture of a sign I took at Great Wall. If you pay attention, you can find numerous postings in public places, including national attractions such as Great Wall and the Forbidden City, that are laden with what we call “Chinglish.” I wonder why the authorities don’t bother with the accuracy of the translation—with so many native English speakers working in China, it requires minimum effort and time to get them right!

At one restaurant in Beijing (I’ll spare its name for the sake of courtesy) where we had our lunch after visiting the Great Wall, we were given a bilingual menu. As I was just about to relax, thinking the rest of the group could now order dishes on their own, I heard Susan burst into laughter. The English translation simply didn’t make sense. Actually, it was worse!

“Why do they call chicken ‘stupid’?” Susan asked.

Chicken was Susan’s favorite dish. The only entree with chicken on the menu was called “Stupid Chicken with Mushroom.”

“I’m not going to eat any ‘stupid’ chicken,” Susan giggled.   

I told Mr. Yao, our driver, what the laughter was about. He was amazed by the translation and told Susan the term “笨鸡”referred to free-range chicken! Couldn’t be further away from being “stupid.”

Susan continued to read the menu. As she selected more entrees to read aloud, the  laughter from the entire group became hysterical. In the end, Susan took out a piece of paper and copied the entire English menu.

“It’s hilarious,” she said. “I’ll have to take them back.” Tears were running down her cheeks.  

Upon my return to the U.S., I received an email from Ellis. Coincidently, he passed me a link titled “Chinglish”, which is posted below. Check it out. Even if you don’t read Chinese, I bet you’ll still get a good laugh.

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/05/03/world/asia/20100503_CHINGLISH.html?src=me&ref=homepage

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

Filming Mulberry Child in China (2)

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Lisa at Great Wall

We landed in Beijing at 4:20 P.M., but headed right into a traffic deadlock. A Mr. Yao, our driver, said it was created by the international auto show. He got off the airport express way and took a longer route to take us into the city. We had booked a boxing match at 7 P.M. at the National Sports Center Gymnasium, an Olympic venue. It was 7 by the time we reached our hotel! Since we didn’t stop for lunch and the rest of the crew, except me, didn’t touch any airline food, I had to have our meals ordered from a nearby restaurant and got every one into my room to have a quick bite. By the time Mr. Yao took us to the stadium, it was already after 8:30. We planned to shoot footage of audience cheering, but found half of the stadium empty. Except two large groups that appeared to be hired by two liquor companies to do promotion—they hit a big drum and chanted, raising their liquor brands signages to show their “support” for the match—the audience’s cheering was lukewarm. We stayed till the end of the match nevertheless.

“I need a drink to relax,” Susan said when we returned to our hotel before midnight.

Despite the exhaustion each of us felt, we were wired. Alex went to bed and the rest of us went to a bar across from the hotel. All that Susan wanted was vodka with grapefruit juice. She soon learned that she would not be able to have her favorite drink for the remainder of the trip.

Quyen hard at work

Beijing was windy and chilly, but when we were ready to work the next day, the sun was out and the sky was blue. We spent the morning shooting at the Great Wall and the afternoon, the Olympic venues. There were streams of people no matter where we were. At one point when Quyen was filming Lisa at the Great Wall after waiting forever for a moment without “volunteers”, a middle-aged couple from Europe walked into view. Susan jumped in front of them before I could react. “Look at the birds,” she shouted, pointing toward the hills beyond the wall. The couple stopped to look, so were a line of people behind them. We were able to finish a clean scene!   

Later that night, we went to shoot at Tiananmen Square. I was surprised the entire squared was fenced off and closed. I asked a guard on the street when it would be open and learned that the square was closed to the public at 7 P.M. each day and would open early in the morning. I had never had encountered closure of the square before except special occasions and was very disappointed. We ended up shooting the Tiananmen Gate instead.

After taking many pictures of Lisa and me at the Gate (Heavenly Peace), we walked back and forth while Quyen did the video. Uniformed guards stood on duty before the Gate at intervals of 20 yards or so and two police cars parked by the fence next to us. Quyen was nervous, but Susan, a perfectionist, insisted on getting all the footage she wanted. Right before midnight, a guard walked over to us.

“Where are you from?” he asked in Chinese. “What are you filming?”

The entire group froze.

“We are from the U.S.,” I answered, speaking as casually as I could. “I used to live in Beijing and want to get some footage of the Tiananmen Gate with my daughter who grew up in the U.S.”

Lisa and I in front of Tiananmen Gate

He looked at me in the eye for a moment and I returned his gaze. Then, he turned and walked back to his post.

Quyen and Susan exchange a look of relief. We left the square quickly.

We filmed the Forbidden City and a section of Hutong, an old Beijing neighborhood, the next day without any incident. In fact, people were very friendly. Even the security guards at the Forbidden City let us take in all our gears at the check point. Susan and Quyen were pleasantly surprised and relieved.

We rushed to the airport at 4 P.M. for our 6:10 flight to Changchun where my mother and sisters live. Now everyone in the group was checking our flight schedule despite my assurance of no more matakes. 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com.

Filming Mulberry Child in China (1)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

by Jian Ping

Cultural Revolution Museum in Shantou

I had traveled 2 or 3 times each year to China since 1992. Never before had I worked so hard, yet enjoyed the trip so much—more than 10 hours of shooting and traveling from April 23 through May 4 every day. Our crew included my film director Susan Morgan Cooper, cinematographer Quyen Tran, my daughter Lisa, who could only join us for a week, Alex Sophia Cooper, Susan’s daughter, and I.  I was very excited about the doc-drama film based on Mulberry Child.

Susan, Quyen and Alex had never been to China before. I told them I could take them in, but they might need Bill Clinton to get them out. Joking aside, they were quite nervous about shooting in China.  

We flew to Hong Kong on April 23—the three of them from Los Angeles and Lisa and I, from Chicago. We wanted to visit the Cultural Revolution Museum (CRM) in Shantou, Guangzhou Province. My blunder nearly messed up our schedule—I mistook our flight departure time from Shantou to Beijing on April 27 for our flight from Hong Kong to Shantou on April 26. We missed our flight, the only one of the day! Since we had such a tight schedule, I frantically searched online and re-routed our flight from Guangzhou to Shantou and booked a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. A two-hour flight took us an entire day. But we managed to check into our hotel in Shantou late at night, with only one meal at the Guangzhou Airport for the entire day. (Lisa reminded me later how mean I was–rushing her and not allowing her to pick up some food at the Hong Kong Station when she was starving!)  

Ba Jin's Portait at the Museum

We lost half a day of work on April 26 and went to the CRM early in the next morning. CRM is located in the Ta Shan Scenery Area, a mountain range dotted with Buddhist Temples. The style and structure of the museum looked like a temple as well. Reading the greeting letter carved on a slab of marble to Lisa, I was amazed by the open criticism of the Communist Party and Chairman Mao for starting the “chaotic”, “disastrous” and “unforgivable” Cultural Revolution (CR). Images of atrocities took place during the CR etched on the black marbles that constituted the core of display. We took many stills and footage. Tears emerged in my eyes as I examined one picture in which a helpless official was surrounded by a group of angry Red Guards. He could have been my father…. So many memories flashed through my mind!

 Many books on the CR were on display in glass cases. China’s famed author Ba Jin was credited for proposing the establishment of a CR museum, and his portrait was placed in the center of the museum. I was very impressed the idea became true. 

It was a pity that not many people were interested in witnessing this part of history. During the three hours we spent there, we only saw four other visitors. Even our cab driver, who often took customers to the Buddhist Temples nearby, had never stopped here before.

We could have spent more time there, but had to leave to catch our flight to Beijing at 1:10 P.M.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com

Facts into Fiction – Two

Monday, May 10th, 2010
Cover of A Vanished World (1983 version). This...

Image via Wikipedia

By Ellis Goodman

Roman Vishniac, who died in 1990, became, in the words of the literary editor of The New Republic, “the official mortuary photographer of Eastern European Jewry.”  His book of photographs entitled, “A Vanished World,” brilliantly illustrated the life of poor and persecuted Jews in the years leading up to the Second World War.  Vishniac’s work is recognized as the last photographic record of Jewish life before the catastrophe of the Holocaust. 

Vishniac’s book is full poignant scenes, but it now turns out that most of these scenes and linked narrative were created and not factual.  Many of the pictures in the book came from different rolls of film, probably shot in different towns.  His vast archive of work provides a fascinating set of ambiguities and unanswered questions. 

The truth has been uncovered by a 34-year-old curator named Maya Benton, recently in a New York Times magazine article.  She has discovered that Vishniac released over the course of nearly 50 years only a small selection of his work for public consumption, and the images that were released showed that the villages of Eastern Europe were largely populated by poor, pious and embattled Jews.  Vishniac was able to create, with his concentration on poverty and piety, the impression of an unchanging and authentic society.

Benton, however, discovered Vishniac had claimed that he’d gone to Eastern Europe to photograph this disappearing society, without reward or financial support.  It transpired, however, that the Joint Distribution Committee (A Jewish charity) in Berlin had commissioned Vishniac, whose photographic work was well known in the 1930’s, to travel around Eastern Europe, to document daily Jewish life in these small villages, and to focus on the most needy and poorest areas solely for a fund-raising project.  This may well have been a noble cause, but was certainly entirely different from how he later represented his work.

Vishniac was undoubtedly an extremely talented photographer – perhaps one of the best of his age.  Hopefully, one day we will get an opportunity to see a full range of his work.  But it is regrettable that he created “images” to suit his assignment, and also his audiences’ in-built attachment to those images of Jewish suffering as being the facts on the ground at the time – which in many cases they were not.

It is so easy for the public’s concepts of factual images to be manipulated through technology or realignment, until we believe entirely in the image we see, even though it is false.  One wonders how often this happens, particularly in our modern high-tech image creating world.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Women in Business: Opportunities my Mother Never Had

Friday, May 7th, 2010

by Nancy Werking Poling

author of OUT OF THE PUMPKIN SHELL

My mother, born in 1919, worked her whole adult life as a “secretary”—a secretary who did the hiring and firing, bookkeeping, etc. for a chain of three pharmacies.  She worked for secretary wages. Frequently the owner of the stores took off for his vacation home, leaving her in charge. Once, when she complained to him about being overworked, he gave her a ten-dollar bill and said, “Here, go buy a new hat.” Rather than be mollified, she was insulted.

I’ve always thought she had the skills to run a major corporation. She worked fulltime, prepared all of the family’s meals, kept the house orderly, was active in our church, and served as president of the PTA. My science teacher told me he’d never seen anyone conduct PTA business as efficiently as she did.

I’m aware of how times have changed when I see the accomplishments of my daughter. The mother of four, she has her own business. Unlike my mother, she can afford to pay someone to clean her house. When she gets unusually busy she sends out the laundry. Being health-conscious, I wish her family didn’t eat out so much, but I’m glad she doesn’t have the full responsibility of meal preparation.

As an author I’ve discovered I am now a business woman too. Since business acumen seems to have skipped a generation, I feel lost in this world I’ve been thrust into. Attending marketing seminars for authors and reading numerous books, I’ve learned about the necessity of utilizing modern social media. So I blog; I have a Facebook page; I tweet; I am in LinkedIn.

Though I’ve been participating in all these somewhat reluctantly and still am not convinced of their merits, I’m finding unexpected pleasures. In Twitter I’ve created Old Lady, a character who is sort of me but sort of isn’t, and that’s been fun.

But it’s LinkedIn that has inspired me. Since I’m trying to think of myself as a business woman, I joined the group Woman2Woman Business. One of the discussions invites group members to write brief autobiographical statements. Women, 749 of them, describe their entrepreneurship in the fields of finance, construction, design, publishing, translating, funeral services. Many report having quit jobs to pursue dreams. Some, having lost jobs, have embarked on new careers.

I don’t know if social networking will bring me new readers, but I’m loving my connections with LinkedIn women. They inspire me with their drive, knowledge, and sense of adventure.

Oh, if my mother had only been born into a time such as this.

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