How To Communicate With Mom

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on June 11, 2008
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me and mom.

From the very beginning, the relationship with my mother has been complicated: close, conflicted, and somewhat interdependent.

Who knows the most about me? Mom.

Who drives me the craziest? Mom. (Though Michael’s closing in at second place…)

Who’s the one who — in my mind — knows it all, yet manages to disagree with most everything I throw out there?

Yup. Mom.

Which is why I knew beyond a doubt that Deborah Tannen’s You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation was a must-read.

For the sake of this particular post, I passed the book along to my mother after I finished with it, and then “interviewed” her for her reactions.



How To Get What You Deserve

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on May 28, 2008
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trish ryan book.

I had been reading Trish’s Dishes — Trish Ryan’s blog — for a few months before her memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, came out. When I was picked at random to receive an advance publicity copy, I was thrilled. After all, Trish’s blog is always entertaining, and her protracted quest for a spiritual home reminded me of my own.

When I sat down with her book, though, I was still wary. My own spiritual journey had led me away from my Roman Catholic upbringing, while Trish’s had led her to salvation through Jesus. I was blown away by her memoir, however, and ended up immediately ordering two more copies to use as mom’s-day gifts for my mom and mom-in-law.

I’ll be posting an interview with Trish at a later date. For now, though, I wanted to mention one of the lessons Trish learns as she delves into Christianity…something she mentioned — and which resonated with me — at her NYC reading last week.

In speaking of the message God had for her when He first appeared in her life, Trish mentioned the lesson of not throwing pearls before swine. In short: Realize your worth, and for the love of god, act accordingly.

For Trish, this meant not giving every good-for-nothing who crossed her path a chance at mucking up her life. But the “pearls before swine” lesson can be applied to just about any aspect of life. I’ve found several areas in my own life where it took me perhaps a bit longer than it should have to learn this lesson:

Love: Trish found herself caught in an abusive marriage, which she eventually escaped from by going into hiding. I myself once allowed myself to become embroiled in such a relationship, one that was emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusive. Dealing with the aftermath of this relationship only made me stronger, but I can’t help being angry at myself for not knowing better than to let something like this happen to me. In short, if someone is not treating you the way you deserve to be treated (lovingly and fabulously), then this is not the person for you. You cannot save a person. You cannot change a person. Being in such a relationship taught me to raise my standards, considering things such as education, thoughtfulness, bad recreational habits, and more when looking for that deal-breaker.

Career: Many people look at their jobs merely as a way to pay the bills. I look to my career for something more: a means of creative and professional fulfillment, and sometimes even fun, not to mention a huge part of my self-identity. When my job was making me miserable, I owed it to myself to take the risks necessary to find career fulfillment elsewhere. Now, I struggle with actually putting a price on what my time and talents are worth. I’m still in my first year of full-time freelancing, and am just now finding out that I’ve been screwing myself over when setting my rates. It’s tough to ask for more money when you’re on a larger staff. In some ways, it’s even tougher to ask for more money when you’re your own boss. It shows a certain level of belief in yourself to ask for what you deserve.

Health: Many people lament their lack of time for things such as working out or cooking. I’m guilty of the same thing. When it comes down to it, though, it’s necessary to make yourself the higher priority. Things such as home-cooked meals and regular workout sessions need to be scheduled into your life, in much the same way you schedule in business meetings and happy hours and choir rehearsals. Such reprioritizing will only benefit you and your health in the long run. At the moment, I have dedicated myself to attending weekly hoop classes, but once a week is not enough. I also find myself living off of ramen and Pizza Hut, which is admittedly horrifying. Don’t follow my lead, for the love of god. Put your physical and mental health above all else. You deserve it.

How to Make It To Your One-Year Anniversary

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on May 14, 2008
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wedding photo.

I’ve already written about the difficulties in making a relationship last. (It’s hard.)

As mine and Michael’s one-year wedding anniversary approaches, however, it occurs to me that just making it 365 days, let alone forever, can be a long shot.

Heck, I’m surprised I made it through the first month. The months following only humbled me more.

Which brings us to Peter Scott’s There’s a Spouse In My House: A Humorous Journey Through the First Years of Marriage.

More entertaining than I had expected, Scott’s humorous “how-to” pinpoints the realities of first marriage in a way that will make you wonder if you’re being secretly videotaped.

After the jump, a number of the topics Scott touched upon, and how they scarily relate to my life with Michael:


How To Be A Joiner

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on May 7, 2008
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join me.I already raved about my enjoyment of Danny Wallace’s Yes Man, which was funny and insightful and made me giggle in public, multiple times.

What I haven’t gotten the chance to tell you yet is that, immediately after finishing Yes Man, I ordered Wallace’s first book, Join Me.

In Join Me, Wallace almost accidentally builds a cult — or, as he prefers to call it, a collective — by placing an ad asking people simply to Join Him. Before long, he has a rapidly growing yet directionless following.

In a moment in which he must choose between using his powers for good or evil, he lands on the side of the greater good, making its his group’s mission to do good deeds unto others.

And thus a movement is born, in which people who may not have have thought to do good deeds for the sake of doing good deeds are suddenly seeking them out!

It’s a great read and, frankly, inspiring.

It leads me to bemoan the lack of volunteering in my life. Aside from singing in various volunteer choirs, and participating — by the skin of my teeth — in iMentor last year, it’s been awhile since I reached the dizzying volunteer heights of my junior high and high school years. Yea, my list of extracurriculars — lovingly prepared by my mom for the sake of college applications — was rife with volunteer activities, including a stint at the town library, the Clifton Juniorettes, Safety Town, CCD, etc. Wallace’s book reassures me with the promise that weekly, and even small, good deeds can be just as worthy and rewarding as involvement in a volunteer organization. Still, if you have a tough time coming up with your own ideas, it’s worth checking out VolunteerMatch for an activity that fits your life.

Another lesson learned in the reading of Join Me was in the power of groups. Momentum. Community-building. Support.

It reminds me of the first sermon I heard at CUC, in which the good Rev extemporized about personal ministries and the importance of lending your time and effort to the greater good. At the time, I found it especially applicable to my life, because my attendance that morning was due to a personal search for community…a community that was united by its good deeds.

I am thankful for the varying communities I belong to: that at hoop class, filled with members who lead me in a sort of body-driven meditation with my hoop every week; that at CUC, which brings me ever closer to a liberal definition of faith; the blogging and publishing community, including the NY Bloggers Meetup Group, that keeps me connected with others in my field and provides me with new opportunities; the community of friends who provide me with perspective and sanity just about every day…And I miss past communities that have dissolved, such as the writing group I was once a part of, or the church choir I recently left.

There is much to be said about being a joiner. If you’re feeling a bit isolated from the world lately — and even if you’re not — consider joining a new group, and observe how it enriches your life.

How To Manage Your Professional Persona

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on April 30, 2008
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business card.My resume winds through the wilds of publishing, including entries within the newspaper world, academic book publishing, new media, and even a brief stint volunteering at a print mag startup.

Now that I’m a full-time freelancer — more than willing to take on just about anything to make some extra cash — it’s proven even tougher to pin down a professional identity.

My business card reads: “Writer/Editor”

The reality is a bit more complex. At the moment, my responsibilities include proofreading, publicity, review collation, and blogging.

So I introduce myself as a freelancer, crossing my fingers that people don’t ask “a freelance what?”


How to Overcome An Obsession with Consumerism

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on April 8, 2008
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My financial problems have been up and down ever since a college-age, part-time job working retail at Wet Seal.

While prowling the racks, straightening hangers and refolding skimpy tops, I concentrated less on selling product than on what I could try on once it was time for my lunch break. Things only escalated from there, with the acquisition of my first credit card, a move to Boston that ensured me a mere five-minute walk from Newbury Street, and a retail gig at a handmade crafts store, where I came to appreciate the inherent worth in things that were more expensive because they were art (I’ve been suffering from minor product-snobbery ever since).

I had to be bailed out of insurmountable credit card debt twice and, most recently, I was forced to switch my balance to a 0%-interest credit card. I am extremely ashamed of all of this, especially as my debt no longer affects just me, but it affects my husband as well.

Your Money Or Your Life rocked my world way back in October but, despite my excitement over its content, I was left conflicted: Most of the time, shopping makes me feel sick to my stomach, and overcome with guilt. Other times, though, I can rationalize my purchases. The $300 chair is a good investment, considering my new, freelance, work-from-home life. The decor makes our condo a by-god home, erasing temporarily the fact of its impermanence. The $250 toward 20 hoop classes and a practice hoop, along with an additional $75 for a travelhoop + bag, are all good things, as hooping is my one, regular, non-work extracurricular, and my only form of exercise.

Who could possibly find fault with that?

Perhaps I’m looking for help in all the wrong places. Your Money Or Your Life was an all-or-nothing sort of book, and my most recent read — The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Richesis no different. In fact, author Jeff Yeager admits to finding most of his inspiration in the former book, and the entire volume reads as a stand-up version of the very same lessons. Is there a more moderate financial self-help book I should be reading? Is my overenthusiastic idealism leading me to try things than I’m not prepared to succeed at?

Still, Yeager’s book does include some helpful tips.

Instead of keeping an itemized list of every payment and purchase, try conducting a regular “What Was I Thinking?” audit. This can easily be accomplished by printing out your monthly credit card statement, and highlighting the purchases that you’ve come to regret. A printout rife with highlights can really drive home the recklessness of your spending habits, leading you to be more careful with your spending.

Challenge yourself. Try to buy produce that is only in season. Or only purchase items that are on yourself. Or establish an under-$1-a-pound rule at the supermarket. The creativity you employ in succeeding at these self-imposed challenges may inspire you.

I think it’s about time I did a “What Was I Thinking?” audit myself. I’ve been especially challenged lately by my work with the new products blog I’m writing for, as I’m rarely satisfied with mere window shopping. Perhaps that $50 vase wasn’t entirely necessary.

I’m curious (if you’ve gotten this far): What areas of spending do you find most difficult to resist?

buzzdash poll.

How to Continue Regressing

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on March 26, 2008
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Last month, I wrote about the positive effects of reveling in more childish pursuits. I had just started attending hoop class, and was hella excited about how much fun it was, how much work it was, and how awesome I was eventually going to become at it (um, the jury’s still out on that last one).

I’m still attending class weekly, and have even invested in a regular practice hoop, in addition to a travelhoop, but am eager to tell you of a new class I’ve recently started attending.

A freestyle dance exercise class, Dance Dance Party Party is sort of like indulging in that whole dancing in front of the mirror in your underwear thing. In group form. To all of the best guilty pleasure songs you could ever imagine.

Marinating in stranger-sweat aside, it was a damn good time. When they turned on the disco lights and turned off the overheads, I was relieved, because it had suddenly occurred to me that my dance-move repertoire left much to be desired. But as the 90 minutes went by, I found myself feeling freer and freer to embrace my inner spastic-so-you-think-you-can-dance wannabe.

My legs felt progressively sorer as the week goes on, but it was a good sore.

DDPP takes place in a number of major cities across the country, so you should definitely check it out. Hard-core exercise is a lot easier to take when it doesn’t feel like exercise.

How to Inspire Yourself

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on March 25, 2008

inspiration wall.

I’ve been wanting to share this blog with you — Inspiration Boards — for quite some time now. The Blog Master — Lori Pickert — periodically showcases the inspiration boards of others…visual mindmaps that allow us to see these artists’ muses all laid out, often in collage form.

It made me wish for my own inspiration board, and wonder what I would place on it.

Final determination:

  • quotes from my favorite writers, as their words inspire me most of all. Highly featured names would be Lorrie Moore and Barbara Kingsolver, and I would, of course, include a poem memorized since childhood: “A word is dead / when it is said / some say. / I say it just / begins to live / that day.” — Emily Dickinson
  • a photo of my grandmother, along with one of me and an abusive ex. My grandmother died believing that I was going to remain with this man permanently. When I think of both her and him, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come, and of how proud she would be of me.

grandma and me.

  • photos of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, whose gothic architecture inspires my design sensibilities, especially when it comes to my most recent design obsessions.
  • photos of works from my favorite designers. Especially Tord Boontje.

fairy tale.primavera tiles
other side vases.

Your turn!

How to Balance Intimacy with Eroticism

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on March 5, 2008
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unhappy couple.

So is it even possible to keep erotic excitement alive in a long-term relationship? When the person you love is as familiar to you as that old, ratty pillow your mother sewed for you back in your toddler years, how can you possibly get excited about him or her anymore? Is this slide into affection and deeper intimacy a form of a more mature love, signaling the end of a youthful passion that was bound to end eventually?

This might be TMI, but I’ve been struggling with a low libido for the past few years.

If this is TMI, I’m giving you the chance to bow out now.


Yes or No.

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on March 3, 2008
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Over the course of the past year, I’ve been trying to become better at saying “no.” People had been telling me that I was overwhelming and overburdening myself…taking on too much…and I couldn’t really argue. As the result of an always-hectic schedule, I was consistently tired, never worked out anymore, and had terrible eating habits. (Looking back, this is probably how I gained 30-odd pounds in the past eight months and, let me tell you, it’s harder to take off than it was to put on.)

But, very slowly, I have been learning to feel less guilty about saying no, and life has become more manageable.

But then I read Danny Wallace’s Yes Man.

So yeah. This is yet another post about yet another inspirational-type stunt-memoir.

All of a sudden, they seem to be the only thing on my to-read pile.


The premise of Yes Man is this: Danny Wallace vowed (hell, he even penned a manifesto) to say “yes” to absolutely everything for the course of a year.

And then, luckily for us, he wrote about it.

But I’m not writing this post merely because Yes Man was such a delightful read (which it was). Nay. Though this book made me laugh out loud like a loony tune several times, I’m writing this post because it also inspired me.

At first, we are treated to Wallace saying yes to the most inane and ridiculous things. (One particularly awesome running gag is his susceptibility to spam mail from a beleaguered sultan looking to transfer large sums of money.) But then, there are chains of yeses that visibly change him, giving him opportunities that heretofore he would never had, allowing to experience things that heretofore would never have entered his orbit.

At one point, the words of a hypnotist (who just happens to hypnotize people with the help of his dog), resonate with Wallace (and with the reader as well): “When you think about it, probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same.”

So…if your life will benefit both from learning to say yes, and learning to say no, how do you choose!?

I have the feeling that it’s perhaps best to learn to say no to the things you would normally say yes to due to feelings of misplaced guilt and/or obligation.

And it’s best to learn to say yes to the things you would normally say no to due to feelings of fear or laziness.

Got that?

Are there any points in your life that you can pinpoint where you directly benefited from saying a yes or a no?

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