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Hard Truth 210: Meet Clark Kent

On April 29, 2015, I had a date.

A first date.

Worse, actually. A first internet date (FID). The culprit was a fellow inmate at Match.com. A seemingly nice looking fellow who had adequate pictures and a profile that had some thought put into it. He made a remark about yoga and his hips that made me laugh.

We’d set a date.

He’d listed off a few places to meet and I selfishly chose the one that was an 8-minute walk from my house. Well, not entirely selfishly. I’d been prone to saying shit like, “Wherever you want to meet is fine” and ending up driving for 45 minutes to the South Loop here in Chicago only to realize Guy In Question lived (literally) in the high rise next door.

So forgive me. I picked the bar that was an 8-minute walk from my house.

As we exchanged a final pre-meeting email, I signed off with a line I thought was ever-so-clever:

See you then. I’ll be the redhead.

Clever. As. Fuck. Amiriiiite?!

Email in my inbox from him, five minutes later:

Good. I’ll be the guy who looks like Clark Kent. 

Har-har. The glasses. I get it. I don’t think I sent an email in return.

meet clark kent 2

Along comes April 29, the “matching hour” was 7pm. Eight minutes after leaving my front door, I arrived at Rogers Park Social – a darling little neighborhood purveyor of adult beverages. I step inside, scan the room, and there he was, sitting at the bar.

Fuck me if he didn’t look like Clark Kent.

I was left to hope that the personality matched the package.

Because what every gal is hoping when she shows up for one of these Internet First Date things is that she’s what he’s looking for…

In that profile of his – where he was so sure of who he is and what he wants.

And we just hope that he’s not looking for That Girl.

You know – the one who can roll out of bed a mess and still look Cindy Crawford from the late 80s.

The girl who can eat 4 pancakes, a croissant, and hash browns – all washed down by 2 mimosas at brunch and still look like Scarlett Johanssen.

Because I’m not That Girl.

And the moments walking into a First Internet Date are always filled with a mixture of doubt (because you know you’re Not That Girl) and hope (because you just might be THE Girl).

So, two hours later, I’m one dirty martini in and what I really fucking need is some food because I only figured this thing would last an hour like all the other First Internet Dates (FIDs) do and I’d usually be home by now, eating a Trader Joe’s Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Tart, hot out of my oven.

Because SWANK.

But I’m hungry. So Clark Kent graciously pays the tab and I wander us awkwardly (because this is going well, right?) over to a local grill where I proceed to order buffalo fries.

Because (1) DELICIOUS

And because (2) STARVING AND I AM NOT EATING A BURGER IN FRONT OF THIS MAN JUST QUITE YET.

The fries arrive. I invite him to have one.

He unabashedly ascertains that these fries are, without a doubt, in the Top Five Worst Foods He’s Ever Tasted.

He says this with no shame, and there I am, shoving shitty buffalo fries into my gullet and laughing at the unbelievable audacity of a man telling a FID his honest opinion about her suspect food selection.

We (I) eventually abandoned the basket of fries and wandered down the street to another venue. Three hours in.

He’s still here.

My jaw hurts a bit from smiling.

Him, a gin and tonic.

Me, a lemonade. The request alone made the waiter wince. Fuck off. I like lemonade and refuse to be shithoused on my First Internet Date with a man who looks like Clark Kent.

We each get to the bottom of our glasses and as it’s a Wednesday, it’s a literal school night for me and an air-quote school night for him. Our empty glasses sat steps away from the El stop that would take him 2 stops down to his house.

I’m a five block walk away. And he offers to walk me home.

Me: Oh, you don’t have to do that. The train’s right here.

Him: I know. I’ll walk you home.

Me: It’s a 10-block round-trip walk to walk me home.

Him: I’ll walk you home.

You know the moment, as a woman or man, when you’re out with a woman or man or person-thing you’re having a fine time with and you realize that they’ve offered to do something because they want to steal 10 more minutes with you and you’re being an idiot by saying – hey, noooooo you don’t have to do that I am fine and can take care of my damn self yo!?

That moment? Sound familiar?

This was me, realizing I was sitting next to a man who was offering to walk 10 blocks out of his way…just to walk me home.

So I said yes.

And for five blocks, we walked close to one another. Not holding hands, but I realized that I liked the way his arm brushed mine every now and again. The first block or two was all nervous chatter (from me) and then voices fell silent.

We walked up to my front gate and I made some dorky gesture to my balcony, mentioning (obviously) my orange curtains.

He said he would like to see me again. And on the very end of that statement, he punctuated it with a “soon.” It was like the final staple you’d put on a paper you were handing in, because that fucking staple meant that bitch was D-O-N-E.

Soon. I said I’d like that.

And then he reached forward, gently grabbed by coat, pulled me toward his chest and laid a kiss on me that made me forget…

Well, pretty much everything.

I don’t remember what I said after that, but I do remember Clark Kent telling me goodnight and turning – walking back the way we came, back down that sidewalk towards the train that would deposit him safely back at Wayne Manor.

And that night, I stood looking at myself in front of the mirror in my bathroom…

And all I could do was smile.

I can’t speak for him, but since that day in April, I haven’t seen another man. On our second date, we realized that – not only had I almost bought a condo in his building, but one of my conservatory classmates and his wife were his landlords.

We realized over multiple conversations that we both lived in Denver – just a few miles from one another – at the same time. He left in 2010. I left in 2013.

It was all a delightful kind of weird.

And today, his name is Philip.

He’s my dork. He’s the man who’s never asked about Jason, but said that if I ever feel like talking about him, he’d be happy to listen. He’s the guy who saves the Sunday Arts & Leisure section from the New York Times for me (because it’s the only section he doesn’t read and that’s AOK by me). He’s the man who’s seen me break down completely only to be so lit up with joy that the Fourth of July could cancel its fireworks display. He comes to every show I’m in and has no problem telling me he didn’t much care for a play we just saw together.

He’s seen me laugh (and made me laugh) to the point of tears and we’ve shared moments between us that have brought one another to tears.

Because we’re both stoooopid humans who have 40+ years of baggage and life and bullshit each that we’re trying to navigate without breaking one another’s heart.

And Philip is the best part of today – my 43rd birthday.

To me, he’ll always be Clark Kent and I hope you understand why he’s been Clark Kent around here for so very long. I’m very protective of him. Because he’s fallen in love with a woman who lives out loud doesn’t mean he has to give up any part of himself in that heartfelt bargain. And can I just tell you…

It’s really lovely that he’s nowhere to be found on social media. I mean, no Facebook account. No Twitter handle. Nada.

Finally, I have a man who hasn’t seen “the latest video.”

Who has no real working knowledge of hashtags.

Who doesn’t see all the jackassian comments some folks leave on my Facebook page.

It’s lovely to have met a man who’s met the woman – my me – and knows only as much about the persona that social media demands as he sees in my blog (which he does read from time to time).

So today, for my 43rd birthday, I have a birthday wish for each of you wondering when your Clark Kent (or Lois Lane, as the case might be) will come along because you’re sick as shit of dealing with the Lex Luthors and Cat Women (Womans?) of the world:

I spent 30-something years thinking I was broken. That there was something so tragically wrong with my ME that no one would love me. With each year and asshat that passed, I just knew that I would be staring at myself and a pile of shelter animals in the mirror one day, having missed out on something – or someone – that could have made my life better…

And it was all because I was broken. And unlovable.

If you’ve been around my ‘hood for awhile, my writing reflected all of this. It was angry. Angst-filled. Mean. Shitty at times. I was a professional asshole.

Because it’s hard to believe you’re anything but broken when things keep happening to tell you that you’re broken. Time and time again.

And then I met Jason – the first man I’d ever met who took me as I am. Good, bad. Funny and not-so. He called me on my bullshit and never asked me to change. He died.

I spent four years Back to Broken – destroying myself in every way I knew how, yet hiding every bit of that from everyone. Including you.

But here’s the part where I tell you something magical happened. That one day, something shifted and I realized WHAT I DESERVED and WHO WAS WORTHY OF MY HEART.

That didn’t happen. I can tell you what did, though.

Through four years of being alone and nearly drowning in the darkest, most turbulent ocean my soul had ever seen, coming close to checking out of the human race at the 12-mile marker on a 13-mile run – I got to know the girl I was alone with.

Me.

And I started to be honest with myself about what I wanted out of this life. Out of a partner. I re-evaluated my “friends” (read: mostly assholes, just like me). I realized that I liked a lot of what this girl – me – had going on in her heart.

I just really fucking hated what she had going on in her life.

And it’s been a long road back – from feeling broken and unlovable to looking at Philip and wondering every day what I did to deserve this salted caramel-flavored unicorn in my life…this man with one kidney and a heart bigger than any human should ever possibly be allowed…this man who disses my buffalo fries and can tell you more than you’ve ever wanted to know about Humanities and who WRITES THE FUCKING SAT (like, the real SAT test) FOR FUCK’S SAKE (srsly).

It’s been a long and shitty yet glorious road.

And it took me all this time to realize that finding a partner whose weird matches mine…was WORK.

That learning how to BE someone partner when our weirds finally collided…was WORK.

And that he and I have a lot of work laid out before us that we’re not yet aware of and I guarantee you that he’ll likely find more joy in grading student papers from his first-year college students than he will in dealing with my layers of bullshit that have still yet to emerge and I will continue to be annoyed with how he pays cash for everything and never uses his fucking debit card like a normal human being. I mean, for shit’s sake, he had a BLACKBERRY until about 2 months ago with a limited data and text plan!

My wish for you, on this, my 43rd birthday, is that you realize that you’re not broken.

You’re not unlovable.

You’re just fucking WEIRD.

And you were put on this planet to be appreciated by some weird motherfucker you just haven’t met yet.

I’m just glad I didn’t hit the exit button a few years ago – because I was damn close several times – as I’d have missed out on this glorious Clark Kent of a man who makes me feel like the smartest, most beautiful girl in the world even when I know a panel of 9 out of 10 dentists would say I sound completely dumb and look like total shit.

He’s my 10th dentist. And I fucking love him so ridiculously and completely.

On Tuesday, Phil took me out to dinner for my birthday. I snapped a few photos of us — and have included one from a previous and rare Phil-and-Erika on-camera moment. Enjoy meeting Clar…er, Philip.

If you’re having trouble seeing the gallery in your email, go ahead and click through online right here.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”1″ gal_title=”Phil”]

 

Hard Truth 204: The Thing I Wish I’d Learned About Men

He was beautiful, inside and out. He sat across from me at a dimly lit table and from the moment we each sat down, the conversation just rolled. I laughed, he liked it. I countered, he laughed. Food came, I’m sure it was stuck in my teeth. I hated to get up and go to the bathroom because surely, right there, that’s where the reverie would end because he’d see my ass as I walked away. It’s a nice ass, and on the eve in question, it was bound in Spanx, but it’s never been described as small.

But I got up, went to the bathroom, came back, and a few hours later, it was time to go.

Him: This was lovely.

Me: Yes, it was. I was honestly expecting it to suck more.

Him: Me, too! So, when can I see you again?

Me: Well, it’s a crazy week, but I could do tomorrow or Saturday.

Him: How about you book me for both?

I drove home in the brutal cold that is a Chicago winter, parked my car, and didn’t have a single shit to give that I was walking 6 blocks in high-heeled boots across ice and snow to get to my front door.

Today’s hard truth is mine — it’s what I wish I’d learned about men a long, long time ago.

People will show you who they truly are, and in short order, if you just give them the chance.

 

Because this guy? Batshit fucking crazy.

When I walked into his condo later that first week, it was stark white. I mean, everything was white. If he’d had a cat, it would have been white. My first honest-to-god response was, “Holy shit, is this where they filmed American Psycho?”

But I marveled as he took me on a tour of his lily (white) pad, describing the renovation and his commitment to having a minimalist home.

Seriously. There was nothing on the counters in the fucking kitchen. Nothing. Not even LINT. Now, my kitchen counters aren’t the DMZ, but they have kitchen things on them. Like my partner-for-life Nespresso machine, a blender, and a thing that holds my cooking utensils. Maybe a dish I hadn’t put in the dishwasher yet. And a spoon. Oh, and there’s the dishtowel. And some mail (shit, did I even open that?) and a box from Birchbox and a knife and what the fuck is that…?

You get the idea.

And he drank. Every time we were together, it was 4 glasses of wine. At his place, the bottle. I wasn’t drinking at the time, so I noticed. And then, it was his hot/cold approach. And then it was the day he told me a story of turning around and yelling at a small child on an airplane with a gleam of pride in his eyes. Then it was the time that passed between calls and text that grew from a jovial banter spanning a no more than an hour…to days.

And then finally, a month and a half later, it was over. After telling me a week before waking up next to me that — this morning, right here — was one of the best mornings of his life, he says (over a call he SCHEDULED with me to which I’m like, well, by all means, get me on your calendar because there’s nothing like a scheduled dumping, amiriiiite?) that he’d been thinking about us for awhile now and he likes me but he just doesn’t see this thing between us going anywhere.

In retrospect, I should have stopped at the American Psycho condo.

Hindsight is always 20/15, isn’t it?

dog turd in tiffany box

A dog turd in a Tiffany’s box is still a turd, baby.

I think there’s a part in all of us that makes us want to see the best in people. Or at least, we find a way to tell ourselves that these few good things about a person we’re interested in comprise the better part of the person.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve rationalized myself into staying in more things that made me feel bad than I can count.

Long after a man’s shown me who he is, I’m still there.

I’m there because I’m sick of online dating.

I’m there because maybe he’s just not a great communicator and I shouldn’t expect someone to text my rapid-fire-finger self back right away. And who really calls someone back the same day?

I stay because there’s a part of me that thinks that this is what a relationship is really like and maybe Hollywood movies have me thinking there’s a fairy tale that doesn’t exist and I should just deal because yes, it’s reasonable to sleep at his house every fucking time even though I have 2 dogs and a cat and he’s allergic to the cat.

I stay.

Or rather, I stayed.

Yeah, you’ve stayed, too.

We stay for a lot of reasons. But I think the reason we stay is because there’s one thing we want and we’re hoping that, in the ashes that surround each of our mildly tragic lives burning around us, there are embers of hope…

that we will be loved.

And what I didn’t realize is that by staying in the hopes that I would be loved, I likely never would be — by him, at least.

We can’t stay hoping that things will change because the thing that needs to change is how someone else feels about us and — as a retired career “fixer,” I can tell you this:

it’s pretty fucking impossible to change how someone feels.

But I stayed. And you stayed, too. We wanted to see the best in the person standing before us because there’s a smile in our souls when we walk through a door on someone’s arm. There’s an iota of validation that is oh-so-sweet when you can use the we and us in conversations instead of the ever-so-tired I.

We stay.

And today’s hard truth…well, maybe it’s less about how someone will show you exactly who they are if you give them a chance and more about…going.

Learning to go.

Because what we leave behind makes room for the good stuff.  The good ones.

And when we each lead lives so busy and full of stuff and things and each day we wake, hoping that this will be the day that we are truly loved — we’ll never be loved if our lives are filled with people and partners who aren’t good for us.

They can be good people, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for us.

I mean, think about THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY. The one you cried over for hours days in high school or college that you swore you’d love for the rest of your life. Today, you see them married. With kids. And you look at what they post on Facebook (because naturally, you’re Facebook friends because SEE HOW AWESOME MY LIFE IS WITHOUT YOU?!) and all you can think is, “Holy shitsnacks — you’re exactly the same.”

Good people. Just not good for you.

So if I can leave you with one wish today, it’s that you learn — or have already learned — how to go. How to make room in your life for the people that deserve to be in it and let the others find their brand of weird.

Because when we learn to go, we just might stumble into the person worth staying for — and the best part of all?

There will be room when he or she shows up.

As there’s one thing I can tell you — the good-for-you people can smell someone with a life filled with bullshit from a mile away. And they have no problem leaving that shit behind.

Way, way behind. Because there’s absolutely no room for them in that inn.

or

 

 

 

Hard Truths, Day 2: A List on Love, with Love

 

This post is part of my series 41 Years in 30 Days. You can find the entire series here as I write them.

In eight days now, I creep further into my 40s and hit 42. While not a birthday they make specialty cards for, it’s still pretty awesome. Also, if there were special cards for turning 42, I’d imagine the greetings would go something like this:

Happy birthday. I got you vodka, a housekeeper, and a picture of what your tits looked like when you were 16.

For your 42nd birthday, I found your dream man. But then I woke up.

Clive Owen called. He’s not coming.

What do Coors Light and your 42nd birthday have in common? Celebrating either is completely tasteless.

So there’s that.

hard truths day 2 love

Today’s hard truth is about love. In 42 years, I’ve learned a lot about it – and it’s best dealt with in a list. Lists are raw. Bulleted. Numbered. So let’s go.

  • Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is the hard part.
  • There’s a difference between being in love and loving someone. Love is what happens when the shiny wears off and you’re left with an unpretty, flawed human staring back at you – and you still say YES.
  • Love will always hurt when you do it right. But it hurts to make things better, not worse or the same.
  • Love might not last, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real and it wasn’t wonderful while it lasted.
  • Always say the one thing you’re terrified to say, because The Universe might come along and snatch love from your tender hands. And should that moment happen, it sucks immortal amounts of ass to look back and regret not saying that one loving thing you didn’t think you had the courage to say. But you did. And you do.
  • It’s not about how long you can talk with one another. It’s about whether you crave one another when silence creeps in.
  • Family love is weird. Just plain old fuckin’ weird.
  • I’ve offered my heart up willingly to many men who weren’t deserving. While I’ve learned how to better protect my heart over time, I’d never trade vulnerability for the inability and lack of opportunity to feel heartbreak.
  • The glorious thing about heartbreak is that you get to pick up the pieces that matter and leave the rest behind.
  • There is something lovely about every shitty relationship I’ve been in.
  • Some people aren’t built to love you (or anyone, much less themselves) – and that’s their shit, not yours.
  • My exes are never assholes. They are who they are and I chose to date them and I’m not someone who chose to date an asshole.
  • My willingness to see the best in men, friends, family doesn’t change who they are at the core. Some people stopped emotionally growing long before I ever met them. I can wish they’d change in one hand and shit in the other. Guess which one is going to fill up first?
  • I don’t have to apologize for what I love or whom I love unless the whom hurts other whoms I love. Should that happen, I need a serious fucking reality check.
  • Never be with someone you need. Be with someone you want…and who wants you.
  • There is no greater love than the love I hold for myself. It’s a love deserving of my attention and it’s hard fucking work to learn to love yourself. Each day, I do hope to become better at this.
  • If you’re ever with someone who finds more flaws in you than things to celebrate, they deserve zero of your fucks.
  • Don’t believe words. Believe actions, feelings, and your gut. Your gut is one honest motherfucker.
  • I need to stop kicking my own ass for relationships that don’t work out because they’re not supposed to work out and I’m human and shit happens and ooooohhhhhhh look – a pygmy marmoset!
  • When I’m down about love, I think about every man I’ve loved and what would’ve happened if it had worked out. And then I Facebook stalk my wasband and realize he looks like the bloated body of a Sammy Hagar impersonator washed up on the beach. Suddenly, I feel fabulous.
  • You can love your work, but if you love it at the expense of the people whom you love and love you, is it really work worth doing?
  • If your list of dealbreakers is longer than your wish of hope-fors, you’re going to be alone (and lonely) for a very long time.
  • Love is an asshole. It never asks permission to show up and blindsides you. Seriously – it’s a dick.
  • My whole heart cannot belong to someone else. Every time I’ve done that, a piece of me dies.
  • Disney can suck a bag of left-bending dicks. Princesses aren’t real and I don’t need to be rescued.
  • Love challenges you. It doesn’t accept you unconditionally.
  • If you give up on your you, how can you expect someone to fall in love with your you?
  • Your friends should love you, not hurt you, keep you down, talk shit about you behind your back (or to your front). If they don’t, get new friends.
  • Dogs are always happy to see you. Sometimes the people who love you will be pissed at you…and vice versa.
  • When you keep someone who hurts your heart in your heart, there’s no room in your heart for someone who makes you feel wonderful and values you for the fan-fucking-tastic human being that you are.
  • Every time you talk shit about your partner, imagine them talking shit about you and whether you’d want that. Then ask yourself why you’re even with this person.
  • Venting is one thing. Disdain and contempt are another realm entirely and kill any chance for love.
  • While you think it to be true, you will not die should you lose someone you love. While a piece of you might die with them, you are a resilient motherfucker and capable of more than you know. Sadly (and thankfully) I know this.
  • Love isn’t a definition in a dictionary. It’s yours. Define it. Reinvent it. Embrace it. Fuck it silly and pull its hair a bit. Hold it, get in its face, and support it. But never (ever) put it down.
  • Search parameters on Match.com are a good starting point. Being a dick about checkboxes…well, it just makes you a dick.
  • When you degrade someone you love, you’re degrading yourself. Why would you be with someone you can talk that way about?
  • Sometimes love is saying, “I can’t do this. Be well. Goodbye.” And walking the fuck away. With tears in your eyes and crying for days. Because your tears will dry and it’s perfectly possible to love someone you’re not in love with.
  • Falling in love and loving isn’t where it stops. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be lovable. And that just sucks because you’re awesome.
  • If you don’t love you, it’s damn near impossible fro anyone else to love you.
  • That guy who hit you, the girl who cheated on you, the dumbass who stood you up, the dude who died, the gal who broke your heart — remember that past performance isn’t indicative of future results.
  • Love yourself. Love your family. Love your friends. THEN love your partner. In that order. You just might find that your partner becomes family. And then everything is fucking magic.
  • Show up. Don’t quit. Fighting isn’t worth it, but fighting for the one you love…is.
  • There is a difference between fighting WITH and fighting FOR.
  • Never say “fuck you” to anyone you love.
  • And when the mood strikes you and you think you could do this – this could be the person who could make you happy and challenge you to become the next better version of yourself. You want to eat jalapeno poppers with them in bed at 9:34am on a Sunday and cry hysterically when they’ve been stung by a bee and are in anaphylactic shock in an emergency room on the brink of death. You want to see them wrinkly. You want to be wrinkly. You see their heart before you see their ass/six-pack/bank account/Porsche.  When you think for a moment you could do this for the rest of your life…say hello. You might be surprised and find it says hello right back.
  • Whenever I think I’ve learned all there is to know about love, something always comes along to remind me that I have a lot more learning to do.
  • Love is hard work. Hard as hell. If it were easy, it would be called “beer,” not “love.”

I Will Never…

why i swear so much - erika napoletanoLast week, I’d completed the first version of this blog post and when I went to insert a post image, WordPress ate it up like a tasty dish of hazelnut risotto. Well, my hazelnut risotto (I make a mean risotto). But I digress. The point being that I lost the entire post, sacrificed to the Blog Gods and here I sit a week later, crafting that which has been crafted before.

I’m writing this while standing on the ledge of my 40th year. While cliché, it’s a time for introspection. Who am I? What have I become? Who do I want to be? Where do I want to go? Never a fan of woo-woo-flavored advice (and of the thought that most things in the “self-help” vein do anything but help alleviate you of a specified amount of cash), I wondered what advice I could give myself as I embark on my next 40 years.

Simple advice.

Things I know to be true, yet I might need reminding of as I gallop towards 80 and try to forget that actuarial tables would remind me that my life is statistically half over as of Monday.

So, in the spirit of brilliant risotto – which is always crafted with the simplest ingredients that join together to create the most complex of flavors – here are the promises I’m making to myself as my birthday gift for Year 40. They are simple, no doubt. But as I’ve found in the first 40 years, it’s often the simplest things that end up having the most impact in my life.

I will never again take work “because I need the money.” Needing the money is a Me Problem, and work taken on account of it makes it an Everyone Problem. I didn’t want it. I don’t like it. I deserve to do work that thrills me (clients deserve to have their work done by someone who is thrilled to be doing it). There is a difference between creating work that is rewarding and doing something to get paid.

I will never again be told I’m too much or not enough. Those who tell me I’m too loud, too harsh, too closed, not feminine enough, offensive, too curvy, too slow, too edgy, or too much or not enough of anything need to take a moment and look at their own lives. When they can show me a proof that they’ve achieved perfection, I still won’t listen – as my imperfections are the most beautiful things about me. I would rather live a life powered my Toos and others estimations of Nots than live anyone else’s life. Also, see pie chart.

I will never again offer unsolicited advice. The most annoying thing in the world (to me) is someone who knows, “Hey – you know what you should do…” The Inferno should be updated and circles of hell added to accommodate those who steal iPhones, eat anything other than blue cheese dressing with hot wings, and think that they have the solution to everything that ails everyone. No one knows what’s best for me except me. If you want my advice about something, I’m confident that you’ll ask for it or I’ll ask before offering it.

I will never again let that moment pass me by. As I’m slingshot ‘round the corner toward 40, I can think of so many moments in my life where my heart wanted one thing and my head, the other. While I know that sometimes the head must prevail (as its job is to keep me safe from some instances of passionate idiocy), my heart deserves a stronger voice.  Knowing full well that life is short, I never want to think back with regret that I let another one of those moments pass me by again. Sometimes second chances don’t come (and sometimes you don’t deserve to get one, frankly). What’s the worst that could happen when I say or do what’s in my heart? Unless it’s murder. That’s rarely in my heart. But I do have cats.

I will never forget the reason I get to wake up every day and do what I love. It’s you. My friends, my readers, my family, my colleagues, my cohorts-in-crime. I think the reason businesses and relationships fail in many cases is that we forget that success is a partnership. I can’t write without readers (well, I can, but not successfully if my goal is to be heard, humble, and affect change). We can’t create a relationship destined to last through peaks and valleys without indulging in the arts of giving, sharing, and loving. We can’t build a business without honoring the only people who can make it a success – our audience. The most important part of this whole bit, though…is the “we.” Success is never an “I” or “you.” It’s plural by design.

I will never (ever) again plague myself with can’t. There’s only one instance where can’t is allowed to escape my lips: when I’ve tried and have proof to the contrary. And even then, it might not be a can’t. It might just be a not yet. I remember a day in October of 2009 when I took my first track cycling lesson. Exhilarated to start, I was convinced inside of 30 minutes that this whole one-gear-no-brakes NASCAR-for-people-with-college-degrees-and-shittier-sponsorships was death in an oval. On the drive home that afternoon, though, I told myself that I owed it to myself to give it one more try. So I took another lesson – and I realized that my can’t had turned into an “Well, I just might…” Which turned into three lessons a week, ordering a custom bike, and discovering a sport that makes me get up early in the morning with a smile on my face, excited for whatever bit of dirt (my latest passion) or pavement lies ahead. It’s hard – it always will be. But to think I almost missed out on something I love because I thought, “I can’t…” Fuck. That.

So I’ll turn it over to you – your nevers. The best thing I can ever hope to do is start a conversation, so I want to hear what your nevers might be. And like the can’ts, they’re all borne from having the audacity to try. I sure as hell like trying.  Doing. Goddamn, I love trying and doing.

I think you might, too.

The Bitch Slap: Fuck You and the Form Letter You Rode In On

and the horse you rode in onMaybe I’m overreacting.

Maybe you’re just an idiot.

Maybe I’m an idiot and this is OK with some people.

Who cares. I will hop on the bus of batshit crazy and say it: you can shove your form letter straight up your ass.

Every now and then, I lose my goddamned mind and think, “Hey — I’m kind of a recluse. I’ll try the online dating thing again and see what’s out there!” Nevermind that my previous forays into the world of online dating have enjoyed a success that rivals none. From being berated for eating a slice of cake to being accosted by careless slingers of the English language and drenched in the backsplash of those who have peed in the dating pool, it’s obvious I can’t get enough of the petri dish “let’s see what crops up” online dating shenanigans. I did, however, have a mostly brilliant 3-year relationship with the guy who told me (rightfully so) that my ass looked like a rectangle — all thanks to Matchmaker.com from 2002-2005.

But like him, aren’t you and I both looking for the exception — both in business and in our personal relationships? Nobody wants to get on the bus with The Rule. The norm. The usual, everyday pile of mediocre.

The search for The Exception got me thinking about some stupid shit you’re doing with your business.

Which is sending form letters.

Let me ask you a question…

Did you ever give anyone your business (or even a random chuckle or flip of your hair) because they made you feel…anonymous? Insignificant? Unremarkable? Plain? Unworthy?

The answer is no. You didn’t, you haven’t, and you won’t. Because you have a pair of balls, breasts (maybe both — not judging), and a brain and you know that you deserve better than that.

My experience shopping for sex toys is more personal than the form letters some guys send me on Match.com. Christ, at least EdenFantasys understands personalized recommendations and offers discretion and a rewards system. Guys and gals alike — if you don’t want to be replaced with automation — in both the bedroom and in your business, it’s time to ditch the automated sales pitches. Some examples to prove my point:

 

Match message 3

Match message 2

Match message 1

None of these make me feel…special. Or inspired. Two things critical when you’re looking to spark a conversation that could lead to a relationship.

A little analogy…

When I get up at the metric ass crack of dawn to haul myself to a spin class, measure out portions of chicken tits on a food scale like they’re gold bullion, and feel super squeeeeeeeeeee when I look all slinky in a little number I picked up at BCBG MaxAzria, it would be nice if you noticed. A simple compliment can make me melt. My head turn. My eye twinkle.

But I can smell bullshit from a mile away.

Isn’t it the same with your business? It’s your baby. You’ve raised it since birth and you bust ass to make sure it fits into the business equivalent of a pair of skinny jeans or that rad button-down that makes the ladies swoon. And you want people to notice what’s special about what you’re doing.

You want people to notice, not hand you a line of bullshit. Form letters, dear friends, are bullshit. When all you have to do is rock a cut-and-paste and hit print or send, you’re essentially sending out insults in bulk. Hell, even Ann Coulter handcrafts her insults. So quit it with lazy and start looking for ways to make your message — and you — shine.

So let’s fix this shit.

Maybe you think I’m a raving twatmonger for laying into the digital gents on the dating web. Fine. You’re not my target demographic. But maybe you think I’m on to something. Maybe it’s time that you upped your communications game and started writing words that garner the results you want from the people you most want to give you those results. If you’re game and ready to fix this shit, let’s go.

Holy shit, I need to contact someone about something. Where do I start?

Easy there, Padawan learner. Don’t blow your Fritos just because you want to put your fine face in front of someone else’s. Start simple and ask: what is it that attracted me to this person or business? Make a little list. Whether it’s the way they arrange their collectible Star Wars figurines on that shelf in the picture where he’s standing by the Christmas tree or that you’ve been reading their blog forever and it’s the number one resource you recommend to clients who need a solid e-marketing strategy — these things are personal. And attractive. And they’ll earn you a whip-around of the proverbial pretty girl’s head when you use them properly.

Fine! I’ll write the letter/email. But I’d really rather just write one and copy and paste. Can I do that? It’s just dating/business/a communications transaction.

I will Tanya Harding you quicker than Tanya Harding. Building relationships is not a transactional activity. So yeah, it’s going to require a little work. Why? Because I want you to imagine yourself on the other side of this courtship. Would you want to feel as if you were being lumped in with every other guy/girl/web development firm/life coach/consultant/PR agency/journalist on the planet? Again, no, you wouldn’t. So take those things that you found attractive above and let’s build a communication with them.

OMFGBBQ I CANNOT WRITE I HATE YOU, ERIKA. I CAN’T DO THIS.

Please — get the Fritos under control once again. You can. And you don’t have to be motherfucking Shakespeare, either. Here’s a simple formula.

[Name]

Why you love them. What you’re asking for. Personalized exit.

[Gratitude or frivolity as the case might demand]

Your Name

In reality, it’s as simple as this.

Gloria~

Your blog post back in October titled, “Six Ways You’re Screwing Yourself With Email Marketing” prompted me to make a fundamental shift in my own email campaigns and I wanted to thank you. I’d like to profile on my blog so I can further introduce you to my small, but growing readership. Would you have time in the next few weeks for a brief interview call?

Thank you (from both myself and my email marketing campaign),

Bob

or this

MatchDude1972***~

I really like your smile in that picture of you with your parents in Venice. If you’d be interested in smiling at one another over coffee or a drink sometime, let me know.

Thanks for a great smile~

Susie

***please stop using your birth year in your usernames. Everywhere. Please.

or this

[Journalist name]~

I’ve been a long-time follower of your stories. In fact, the first one I recall reading was your piece on X, which I promptly shared to all of my colleagues because I loved your take on why X was the cause of Y — you prompted quite a few thumbs on my Facebook wall that day.

Given your interest in X over time, I wanted to drop a bug in your ear about a client of mine, XRYX. In short, they’re the [nifty tagline] and they’re prepping to launch [cool shit]. I have no doubt you’d have a rollicking conversation with the CEO [Name] and if I might make that introduction, let me know. I can also direct you to their press page and send a draft release for your review, but since I hand craft each email I send to journalists, I don’t want to weigh this down with pitches, attachments, and links.

I appreciate your time, and more importantly, your writing. I look forward to hearing from you!

Erika

Seriously? This shit works?

The the messages above took me a whopping 8 minutes to craft. All three of them. Total. And that’s not because I’m a writer. It’s because I knew what I wanted to get our of the communication (and it wasn’t the delete button or Circular File).

But a message should have two goals and two goals only in any sort of sales process, whether selling yourself or your services: (1) To make the recipient feel appreciated, recognized, and worthy, and (2) Inspire them to respond. Form letters do neither.

So if you’re single in the dating world or a businessperson yearning to do kickass work for kickass people, you have to make the people you’re approaching feel appreciated, recognized, and worthy and…inspired.

Because why would any of us do any kind of business, sexy or otherwise, with anyone they found uninspiring?

So fuck your form letters — you heard me. If I want automation, I’ll get what I need from Google or an online purveyor of toys for my naughty bits.

But if you want to attract a more ideal match in both your personal and business lives, be inspiring. Be personal. And take a whopping 8 minutes to say what you mean and feel. You might never (and probably won’t ever) get a second chance.

You’ve been slapped…and here endeth the lesson.

PS: And you can avoid the, “Hey Erika, maybe blog posts like this are why you’re still single” comments below. Because if you’re not offended by form letters and think being personal ain’t the ticket — you’re not my target demographic (in my personal life or in business).

Without Rules of Other People

herb and dorothyThis is a lesson in can’ts. We’re quick to use that word, aren’t we? Never in the history of language have there been four letters so detrimental to process as c-a-n (apostrophe)-t.

You said it yesterday. I know you did.

I did. Which is why I’m going to introduce you to Herb and his wife Dorothy. That’s them in the picture.

Born in 1922 and 1935 respectively, they’ve seen a thing or two as the years have gone by. Dorothy was a librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library and Herb an employee of the U.S. Postal Service. They’re modest people who live their lives in a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment. Salaries of two civil workers.

Yet between 1962 and 1992, this couple amassed the largest collection of New Art (including Conceptual and Minimalist styles) in the world. 4,782 works of art, to be exact. And it wasn’t what they set out to do.

Herb and Dorothy just loved art. They loved the artists creating it. It became a running joke in the New York City art circles that, should you be lucky enough to get a call from the Vogels, you could pay rent that month.

But how did they do it – this librarian and this postal worker. When you consider that their collection holds pieces from greats such as Picasso and Lichtenstein (among countless others), first thought is bound to be that they couldn’t afford to acquire that caliber of art on their income.

But they did. And here’s how.

They had one rule: each piece they bought had to be able to be carried home or delivered by the artist personally. By building relationships with the artists, they were able to acquire a large majority of their collection on installment payments. Dorothy was a meticulous bookkeeper and never stiffed the artists. The artists came to respect the Vogels and knew they were good for the money. It was a collection made possible by relationships.

And seen as a bit impossible by those in Herb and Dorothy’s life.

An interview with Herb’s sister told of how he was a (gasp) zoot-suiter when he was young, dressing in a conspicuous fashion that their father did not approve of. She also felt that much of his “rebellion” came from not finishing high school. To which Herb had this to say:

I hated school. I hated people telling me what to do. Hated it. Whatever I did, I did without rules of other people. I did it because I wanted to do it.

Without rules of other people.

What have you done without the rules of others being your guiding light? When’s the last time you forged your own way, saying to hell with the comments from the peanut gallery?

Herb’s love for art meant creating a path defined by his own rules — a path that brought tears to my eyes at a few points.

See, there’s this documentary called Dorothy and Herb. I watched it the other night in sheer awe. At one point, Dorothy is talking about how she can count on one hand the number of times the two of them have been apart since they got married. That’s the way they wanted it. He nods. Agrees. Beautiful.

And then there’s the moment where Herb and Dorothy go to visit the National Gallery of Art.

In 1992, they decided to donate their entire collection (housed in their one-bedroom apartment, all 4782 pieces of it) to The National Gallery of Art. Each year, they make a trip to visit their collection.

The scene that made me tear-up was when they walked into the lobby of the gallery and there for the world to see is a giant carved wall, naming the largest patrons of the Gallery.

Herbert and Dorothy Vogel are the topmost entry. Dorothy pointed, “Look, Herbie — look.” And they smiled.

There’s nothing in this world that keeps you from doing what it is you want to do. Income, location, birthright…nothing. Herb and Dorothy didn’t set out to build a 4000+ piece art collection. They followed a shared passion. They met people. They built relationships. They created a memorable life, for themselves and the artists.

And for us, too.

So what will you do today to look at your path and see what you could accomplish without “rules of other people”? The boundaries you set for yourself are your own. Even the Vogels had boundaries. But those boundaries never kept them from living a life they love and following a path that’s created a legacy. We all hate people telling us what to do and how to live, so why not pull a Herb and do the things you want to do? It’s the only way to create a legacy. Can’ts will only keep us from where we want — and need — to go. There are no can’ts in this lifetime, really. There are just paths people haven’t thought of quite yet.

We each have a legacy.

What’s yours?