In every movie about women with careers, there is the one woman who makes it look easy. There is the woman who is married, has a child, has an idealized job in a glamorous industry, who can whip everything and everyone into shape with a few sharp words and who punctuates every life-saving lecture with, “Cupcake?” That’s Arwen. Arwen is totally the Bailey when it comes to life saving lectures, too. You know, if Bailey made cupcakes. No nonsense, and always right. She can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and then bake cupcakes while she’s online managing the rest of the world. When I need advice that I can and will follow, I go to Arwen.
I admire this woman. When I fantasize about the type of woman I’d like to be (if I weren’t so distracted by shiny) I look a lot like Arwen. I’d gush on about her, but it is too simple a fact for it to be so floral. I simply admire Arwen.
Arwen always has something going on. She’s working. She’s parenting. She’s wife-ing. She’s fending off deer and snakes from her property. She’s painting a room. She’s refinishing furniture. She’s clearing brush. She’s chopping down trees. She’s building a bridge over the creek in her back yard. She’s baking cookies for her annual cookie party. She’s baking cupcakes for her son’s class. She’s working 20 hour shifts because Congress is in session, and people need to know what those knuckleheads are up to now. She’s stuck in traffic emailing from her Blackberry. She’s writing a blog (The Average Blogger.) Or two (That’s What She Said.) She’s taking amazing photographs of Civil War battlefields. She’s traveling. She’s cheering on the Nationals. She’s–I’ll tell you what she should be. She should be exhausted.
I have never met another human being who can do as much with as little time. It’s a bit like being friends with Doctor Who. Constant motion. Constant excitement. And she thinks it’s nothing at all.
She is practical and straightforward. She is, as all of my favorite people are, brilliant. She can make me laugh out loud harder and faster than anyone else I know. And she once drove an hour out of her way to search for a camera I thought I had lost on a hayride. THAT is a good friend. Oh, and B likes her just as much as I do. How often does that happen?
Name: Arwen Lee Adams Bicknell. It’s long, but all four of those are a piece of my identity and heritage, so there it is. Age Range: On the cusp of 40. Preferred Job Title: Officially, Managing Editor for Online and Print Production. In my imagination, Empress of All I Survey. Industry: Journalism.
Describe your family: Immediate family comprises my everloving husband, John, and my laugh riot son, Thomas, plus cats Gilda and Jane. Extended family is equally small and close-knit, and I spend at least two hours on the phone every weekend with my parents and grandparents.
What does the first hour of your day look like? Dark, dark, dark, full of work, work work. The alarm goes off sometime between 4:30 and 5:30, depending on how much I predict I will need to get done before 8, and I am online within 7 minutes of the alarm going off — and five of those minutes are spent waiting for the damn computer to boot up.
The last hour? Because I get up so early, I tend to crash hard. I kiss the kid goodnight at 8:30 and wander off to my own bed, where I aspire to reading one chapter of anything before passing out, but most nights I usually just flop onto Tha Mister’s shoulder while getting sucked into whatever dreck is on TV.
What makes you feel successful? I’m pretty easy on that score. Completion of a project, from a good batch of jelly or crocheted blanket to just having a clean house. I will say I think I feel most successful when I’ve succeeded in passing along some skill or information to someone else. Teaching Thomas how to fold laundry, teaching a new employee how to be a good editor; those are the best parts.
What brings you joy? All things Thomas. The way he laughs when he is happy, the way he sings to cheer himself when he’s less than happy, the way he gets righteously pissed off and stompy and makes me want to throttle him because, well, “I’ve told you 100 times not to slam that door like that, young man! THIS is how you slam a door!” Just, all of it.
What women do you admire? I admire lots of women. Does everyone say their mom? She’s in there; she can rebuild car engines and tame horses. I aspire to be as competent as my mother, as socially adept as my grandmother, as innovative as Coco Chanel, as badass as Margaret Thatcher,and as nurturing as Mother Earth. I guess my TV role model is Claire Huxtable.
What do you like best about your closest friend? That he was smart enough to marry me. It gives us more time to have all that fun together.
What do you like best about yourself? Is it weird that this was the hardest question to answer? It’s much easier to detail what I don’t like, since I tend to spend more time working on that or making excuses why I’m not working on it. But best? I guess it would be my attitude. John refers to it as an “everybody just calm the fuck down demeanor.” I think I take a pretty rational and evenhanded view of the world instead of getting worked up or taking things personally. First, it lets me sleep better at night, and second, it helps me better assess problems and solutions.
What advice would you give boys about girls? Oh, I am doling this out all the time, to my husband, to my son, to my dad…. The first advice I gave Thomas was to invest heavily in the phrase, “You were right; I was wrong.” Of course, the second phrase he really needed to survive kindergarten was “You’re not the teacher; I don’t have to do whatever you say.”
How do you overcome adversity? I’d like to say I do it with energy and vigor, but the truth is I probably do it with a gusty sigh, an eyeroll, and then planting my feet and shoving as hard as I can.
How do you want to be remembered? Oh, my. I think I’d like to be remembered as someone who knew how to turn work into something fun, and helped other people do so as well.
And since Arwen is one of the handful of women I know who is successful in the career she actually went to school to achieve, I thought I would ask her for a little more information.
What advice would you give to women in middle and upper management? Don’t ever confuse being a boss with being a bitch. There are times to be stern and times to be blunt and deliver harsh truths, but there’s always a way to do that without getting personally nasty, and there’s really never any cause to snap and bite and humiliate subordinates. Likewise, you don’t have to be a bitch to move up the ladder; you have to be competent and assertive, not malicious and subversive.
What advice would you give to girls on getting a job in their desired field? Don’t be afraid. Do your research about the field, talk to people who have the job, see if you can get some firsthand experience as an intern or summer employee. Ask the stupid questions, make the dumb mistakes — once, so you can learn from them. And if you do get the job and find it doesn’t suit you, don’t be afraid to change course. I know a lot of people who invested themselves, found out the job wasn’t for them, but stuck with it for whatever reason — fear of failing in another field, fear of wasted investment, I don’t know what. Don’t be afraid.
What matters most? Being useful. Finding a way to contribute, even if it’s just picking lint off the sofa, is the most gratifying feeling I know, and it has done the most to advance me in my life, my career, my sense of self. My boss told me once that if he had to choose my epitaph, it’d be what I say to him all the time: “I’m done with my stuff. What else ya got?” That was just about the nicest thing he ever could have said to me. If I can teach Thomas to be one of those useful kids who clears the table instead of one of those entitlement brats who just expect the grownups to clean up their every mess, I’ll feel like I really did something worthwhile.