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Almost forty years ago, on a warm summer evening, a charming coed double-booked. Laurel couldn’t say no to Bill or Peter, so she said yes to both.

Bill and Peter were both good-looking young men, but Peter was a shade bolder than Bill. His bellbottoms flared more. He was the star pitcher of the baseball team. He wanted to travel and see the world. And he knew that Bill had a date with Laurel prior to his own, so, naturally, he showed up early.

Sure enough, Bill’s car was still parked in the driveway.

Laurel stood with Bill on the steps and seeing Peter pull up, blushed at being found out and ran inside.

Peter stepped out of his truck. “Bill.”

“Peter.”

Inside, Laurel burst into tears. “He’s impossible!” she cried.

Her mother, a stylish woman, peered out the window. Maybe she smiled. Young love, that sweet old thing. Years of experience had taught her the importance of giving pithy advice.

“Honey,” she said, “Put on a little lipstick and everything will be alright.”

Laurel did as instructed, breathed easier, and decided to take charge. She went back outside, kissed Bill on the cheek goodbye, and half a year later married Peter.

Forty years, five kids, and four continents later, Peter and Laurel are still together.

Like all good stories over time, this one has grown in my imagination. My mom’s curls are blonder and fro more, my dad’s bellbottoms are even more flamboyant, but what hasn’t changed, are my grandma’s words. “Put on a little lipstick and everything will be alright.”

She could have said something like, “Buck up,” or, alternately, given a long beautiful talk about the choices we make in life, but she didn’t.

She invoked lipstick.

I often think of this story when I write, of the everyday article of beauty that was given great power, of my grandma’s unsentimental manner in advising a quick-fix to regain self-control. She suggested making a physical change, even if just a small one.

These are the flowers I bought the other day.

These are the flowers I bought the other day.

For years I have subscribed to her advice and on occasion work while wearing pajamas and red lipstick. Don’t laugh. I know it’s not about the lipstick itself. The small physical change might be anything at all, like opening a window, wearing cowboy boots instead of flats, going for a run, getting a haircut, or buying flowers and arranging them in a vase to place next to your computer.

These are small bursts of beauty that zero in on one’s heart to kindly remind it to breathe. As a writer, it’s my belief that when I breathe better, my story will breathe better also.

If you’re feeling weathered, try lipstick.

Or bossy boots.

Or both.

(This post was unabashedly written with women in mind, but men, you’re smart too–adopt what works.)

And don’t forget that tomorrow is International Women’s Day. Celebrate!

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