Book Chat: Austenland

By Hannah Lee

“Jane Austen fever” is heating up, as the Bank of England has announced plans to feature the image of the beloved female novelist on their ten-pound note. The auction of a ring with Austen provenance prompted a public outcry, and the British Minister of Culture stopped its sale to the American singer Kelly Clarkson. The movie premiere of Austenland has rolled out in Los Angeles and New York last Friday. There are no dates for Philly showings yet, but I am preparing by taking the 2007 novel off my bookshelf.

Written by Shannon Hale, winner of a Newbery Honor medal for Princess Academy, the novel is about a single New York career woman, Jane Hayes, with an obsession for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, or specifically, Colin Firth’s depiction of Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation. When her great-aunt bequeaths her an all-expenses-paid vacation, to a resort where the regency world of 1816 rules, the heroine accepts the gift, with the hope of getting her obsession out of her system.

Pembroke Park is where cell phones are banned, and modern garb is switched for Empire-style gowns, bonnets, and garters (although mascara and modern toilets escaped the rule of authenticity). Going further than your typical costume ball and fan convention, this is a place where patrons live out their fantasies of a bygone world of servants, carriages and horses, and games of whist. The added bonus of a romance — under strict regency guidelines on modest behavior — detracted from the innocence of the fantasy play. The predicament for the heroine is assessing what is real and what is acting.

What was difficult for me was the concept of patrons paying for romance, which falls just within the legal boundary. What about the players who embody the regency characters they meet? This is no mere acting gig, because they spend days and nights with their roles.

Humorously drawn are the cast of characters, including the proprietress Mrs. Wattlesbrook, who grills her patrons on the proper regency rules of conduct; the charming Amelia Heartwright, who returns for a repeat vacation; and the farcical Miss Charming, embodying the tone-deaf patron, who sprinkles her language with the anachronistic “what, what” and “jolly good.” The male players include Colonel Andrews, with “a decent set of shoulders;” the disapproving Mr. Nobley; and the gardener Martin, with a taste for American basketball, although it is off-limits and out-of-time.

The $4 million film was produced by Stephanie Meyers, who channeled her earnings from her successful Twilight series of book and film. In a highly unusual move, the advance screenings are shown to women only, following the Sundance Film Festival, where women viewers praised the movie, and men trashed it.

While I am waiting for the movie to arrive in my neighborhood, I can review my copies of An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray, and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. I would learn much, without any complicated plotting.

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/3445/book-chat-austenland

 

 

 

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/3445/book-chat-austenland

Book Chat: Get Real, Get Married

By Hannah Lee

Aleeza Ben Shalom has always happily served as a networker or a “connector,” bringing together people whether it was about housing, cars or furniture. Her successful connections, made through her Shabbat hospitality at her family’s table and her volunteer work for the SawYouAtSinai dating website, have led her to launch her business, “Marriage Minded Mentor,” in February 2012. To date, she has brought 14 clients to the wedding chuppah and another eight are engaged.

Her 132-page book, Get Real Get Married, hit the stores on Tuesday. With clients from the observant community, her shortest match took four months from introduction to marriage (Those two really knew what they wanted!), while the longest match took about nine months. Her clients in the general public need more time.

Raised Conservative and formerly known as Lisa Caplan, Ben Shalom studied Jewish studies, children’s literature, and environmental studies at the University of Pittsburgh. While attending a retreat with IsraLight, a kiruv (outreach) organization founded by Rabbi David Aaron, she found both meaning and purpose in a life structured by Torah and mitzvot (commandments). Overnight, she began to observe Shabbat, swapped out her trendy wardrobe for modest clothing covering her collarbones, shoulders and elbows, and already a vegan, she started keeping kosher.

Also attending the same retreat was Gershom Ben Shalom, although they were both dating other people. They dated for three weeks, got engaged, and were wed in four months. This is not what she recommends for anyone else, but as her mother noted to her, “You’re not flaky, but this [rapid transformation] is flaky.” Her parents nonetheless supported her decision and they are delighted in their four grandchildren (and another on the way). The Ben-Shaloms have been married for 10 years.

Ben Shalom says a matchmaker has to work in three levels: in fact, in act, and intact. The first goal is the one that’s most familiar to us, but a successful matchmaker has to also walk the client through the process — “in act,” as well as support the client through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships — “intact,” to keep them together. Even after the wedding, she fields calls from former clients asking if some particular issue or conflict is typical to other marriages. She is even planning a sequel to be titled “Stay Real, Stay Married,” for a society where 50% of marriages end in divorce, as do 20% of Orthodox Jewish commitments.

Recently, Ben Shalom spoke at a non-Jewish event attended by women aged 18-65, and she saw that her message, that you have to be marriage-minded to get married and stay married, resonated with the audience. She realized that her message is universal: that marriage is a lifelong process of growth and connection.

She offers her clients a pithy lesson of one, five, and ten. One: you have to pick one goal to focus on. If marriage is your goal, then choose no more than five mentors to assist you. Who qualifies as a mentor? Ben Shalom advises to choose someone who has been married for more than five years and who has shown wisdom and a history of good decisions. Then, choose ten or fewer people to date until you pick your spouse. This directs dating in a healthier way, so that one thinks carefully about whether a person is worthy of dating for marriage.

Older singles can be particularly fragile, but they usually hide their vulnerability: They present themselves as accomplished, financially stable, and able to live independently. How do we, who are not matchmakers, help these people?  ”Engage in open dialogue,” counsels Ben Shalom, “and ask what does the person need at that moment.” Check back each time, because the emotional terrain is very volatile and someone who’s ready to meet people one month may be exhausted emotionally the next one, so that person may wish to simply join your family for a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal, with no expectations for a shidduch.

Successful clients are stable: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Some clients have met with Ben Shalom’s refusal to arrange meetings during a period of transition. She also readily refers clients to other professionals for therapy, diet counseling, or personal organization (clutter management).

What does she think of speed dating (a phenomenon that’s not so popular in the Philadelphia area, where singles have the opportunity to sit and engage with each other individually in a focused, limited time — usually several minutes)? This may work for some people, but Ben Shalom finds it emotionally challenging, and it is not amongst her top techniques. She is more a proponent of “inspect what you expect,” and her clients do not go on blind dates without evaluating the particulars of a prospective date.

The dating scene in Philadelphia is unlike those of New York and Los Angeles, where there are so many singles, that they don’t feel the need to get married. “They are practicing to be single,” said Ben Shalom, “not practicing to get married.” Moreover, people tend to leave New York once they do get married for more affordable communities, in order to be able to raise children.

Are the rabbis doing enough for singles? The times are changing fast, so while individual rabbis may be helpful, they are not unified in their efforts. In earlier times, all Jews in any particular area knew each other, and so it was easier to facilitate with matches. In our times, Ben Shalom advocates the use of a “dating resume,” or dating profile. In addition to personal statistics and biographical data, she asks her clients to reflect on who they are and what they are looking for.

A crucial advice by Ben Shalom is not to look for what the mentors want instead of what you want, because that could lead to shaky relationships. As for highly-specific documented demands such as the dress size of the kallah (or mother-in-law!) or the color of the tablecloths, Ben Shalom asks, “are their head and heart in line? The color of the tablecloth may be a surrogate for family minhagim (customs), but is the person marriage-minded? Can he or she stay married?”

Ben Shalom hosts a weekly radio show at Jewish Talk Radio, and blogs at the Marriage Minded Mentor website.

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/3273/book-chat-get-real-get-married

Negotiation 101: A Cross-Cultural Case Study

By Hannah Lee

How much you know about yourself counts as much as how much you know about your opposing partner at the negotiating table, said the much-loved and much-lauded Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine in a presentation on Sunday for the Brown Alumni Club of Philadelphia at Bryn Mawr College. The case study he presented was the on-going negotiation between Google and the government of China, which began in 2005. What I learned was far more applicable to me in my personal relationships.

Plan before hand, said the Professor, and know what you want. In Google’s case, the goals range from: providing users high-speed access to information, earning profit, and enhancing its reputation, i.e., promoting itself as the search engine of choice. Google’s mission used to be, “Do no evil,” but, noted the Professor, the company no longer touts its ethical origins while pursuing profit.

The government of China, in contrast, wants to protect its own Internet search company, Baidu [ranked #4 in the world in 2006 after Google, #3, MSN, #2, and Yahoo, #1]. It faces a brain drain of scientific and technological expertise, and wants “the sea turtles to come home.” While China wants access to cutting-edge technology, it also wants to set limits on Internet use to maintain its political power.

Next, you have to understand the other side, taught Dr. Hazeltine, who began teaching at Brown in 1959 and won the Senior Class award for teaching for 13 consecutive years until it was named in his honor in 1985. The Google negotiators had difficulty interpreting the cross-cultural signals. Chinese protocol prohibits saying no or making other strong statements. To save face, a Chinese negotiator may nod, but the gesture does not reflect consent.

“Process” is also different for Chinese bureaucrats than for American technocrats.  Consensus is often arranged beforehand, or behind the scenes. The Chinese tend to look at the whole picture while Americans tend to deal with line-by-line details. Google has learned to unbundle issues and make multiple product offers, each “a whole picture” by itself.

During the negotiations, you must build trust and listen to the other side, expounded Professor Hazeltine, who now has 577 students– almost 1/10 of the undergraduates– enrolled in his popular ENGN 9 course, Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations. “We’re born with two ears and one mouth for a good reason”– we should listen more than we speak. In Google’s discussions with the Chinese, informal meetings are crucial in building trust.

Be patient, advised the Professor, and be ready for post-settlement deals. In 2010, Google protested Chinese censorship of its search engine and moved operations to Hong Kong. Last week, Google and all of its major services were blocked in China on Friday, as the Communist Party met to appoint new leaders for the first time in a decade. The case is not closed yet.

One interesting tip from the audience came from an alumna who has found it useful to invent a hierarchy, even when she has the ultimate authority to make a decision, because she wanted more time to consider her options. This I later learned was an example of a classic negotiation tactic called “agent with limited authority,” in which the limits can be real or assumed.  With my children, I’ve given them carte blanche to label me the “bad cop,” when they need an excuse to fend off peer pressure.

Another audience member suggested a major difference between the Americans and the Chinese is the concept of time. Yes, agreed the Professor, citing the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 that ended the Vietnam War– the Americans reserved hotel rooms for the negotiations, while the Vietnamese bought real estate.

Professor Hazeltine’s newest course in social entrepreneurship and appropriate technologies stems from his years teaching consulting in Botswana, Malawi, and Zambia.

Another personal lesson came after the official presentation, when my husband and I met another inter-racial couple and we shared with each other the pitfalls of misunderstanding each other’s cultural cues. Marriage is comparable to business and international diplomacy, in which the two partners may come from different backgrounds and they have to find common ground and a common language to express their goals. Learning Professor Hazeltine’s strategies for negotiation may even help strengthen your marriage, but hopefully you’ll fare better than Google has in its relations with China.

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/2730/negotiation-101-a-crosscultural-case-study