Cindy Ratzlaff could see her layoff coming two years out, like a far-off storm on the horizon. As vice president and director of book marketing at Rodale, Inc., she’d overseen the selling of “The South Beach Diet,” which became one of the first blockbusters for the Lehigh Valley publisher of health and fitness books and magazines in 2003, hitting #4 on the New York Times bestseller list. Subsequent books from the South Beach franchise hit the ground at #1 and catapulted this little publisher in the valley into the big leagues after almost 60 years of churning out books with titles like “200 Fabulous Frugal Uses for Baking Soda” and “The Doctors’ Book of Home Remedies.”
But one media-killing recession later, Cindy found herself out of work. “Although I saw it coming, I was surprised at how it made me feel,” she said. “I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I felt like all those years I was like a gypsy con artist, that I was never any good and all my success was just smoke and mirrors.”
Then she called her friend and traveling companion of 30 years, Kathy Kinney, who had some succinct words of wisdom for her. “I said ‘Snap out of it,’” said Kathy, the Irish-American comic actress best known for her role as the makeup-impaired Mimi Bobeck on “The Drew Carey Show.” “I told her ‘jobs come and go. You don’t change.’”
Kathy had had a disturbing wake-up call of her own. While surfing the internet for an explanation for why her feet felt so hot all the time, she found several sites that informed her that she had reached her “crone years.”
She was shocked.
“There are people who believe ‘crone’ means ‘old wise woman who lives at the edge of the forest,’” said Kathy, as the three of us enjoyed the filleted trout at Seasons 52 in Cherry Hill, NJ, a few weeks ago. “It does not. It means ‘dead flesh.’ I do not want to be known as dead flesh for the last half of my life.”
So, instead, Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney became Queens. Of their own lives. “Queen of Your Own Life” is the name of their new book, published not by Rodale but by Harlequin (yes, the romance publisher). Its subtitle says it all: “The Grown-Up Woman’s guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve.”
It’s a self-help book that’s laugh-out-loud funny, not surprising from two women who performed together in New York City in various comedy troupes, including Funny Ladies, Belles Jeste and Prom Night. Both wiseass and wise, “Queen of Your Own Life” encourages women to shuck off the various hats they wear—the ones they hide under, the ones that declare their lack of self-esteem, the ones that hide their beauty from themselves and everyone else—and replace them with crowns. Real ones if they can get them.
Cindy and Kathy held their first “crowning ceremony” during their annual girlfriends getaway trip. During dinner their first night in Prague, after congratulating one another for “not being on any kind of medication,” they hatched the Queen idea and based the crowning ceremony on a New Year’s ritual of Kathy’s—to ask and answer two questions: “What do you want to let go of or leave behind that no longer works for you, and what do you want to keep that’s still working for you?”
So, over ghoulash and pilsner, watching the swans floating in the Vlatava River, they celebrated who they were. As Cindy describes it: “We were two small town girls from Wisconsin who lived for a couple of decades in New York and got to high points in our careers and there we were, sitting in Prague. And wow, we really had to admire the journey. It was pretty impressive.” They toasted their future—as queens of their own lives, not crones.
When they returned from Prague, they found that all their friends wanted to have the same experience. And so, while visiting a friend in Las Vegas, they bought one another rhinestone broaches in the shape of a crown and performed the ritual again. They did it again with a group of New York girlfriends.
After a few more clamored-for crowning ceremonies, Cindy’s publishing instincts kicked in. “This could be a book,” she said. Using Skype and iChat, Cindy in Allentown and Kathy in Los Angeles started writing a proposal for a book that they believed would help other women get back in touch with their inner royalty.
“At some point,” said Kathy, “you have to be wise enough to poop or get off the pot. You have to come to the point in your life when you decide how you feel about yourself, some time before you’re on your deathbed. In my life I’ve dealt with the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of being alive. To survive on a day-to-day basis it takes the basic faith that everything is going to be allright. What’s it going to be—fear or faith?”
The book outlines seven gifts that will propel any woman to the throne—and not just to clean it—including taking time to admire the person you’ve become, guarding your borders (setting boundaries so your time and energies aren’t sucked away, and, perhaps most important, creating your “court:” the people in your life who, when you are beating yourself up over losing your job will not hesitate to tell you to “snap out it” because you’re the same worthy person you were when you were gainfully employed.
Of course, that’s something Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney know plenty about.
“I can’t imagine going through life without a good friend,” said Cindy. “My friendship with Kathy has lasted because she has no agenda for me and I have no agenda for her. It’s unconditional—I don’t have to lost weight or do this or that for her to be my friend. I’m confident she will be my friend no matter what.”
Her advice: “When you’re choosing the people you want to be with, you want to choose the best.”
So sayeth the Queen.
Yes, They’re Irish
“My father always said we came from County Clare,” said Kathy Kinney. “But I know there were Kinneys in Roscommon and Dublin. Nobody ever really pinned it down.”
She does know that her family’s journey didn’t end when they hit American shores. “They promptly moved to the center of Wisconsin which was as barren and green as Ireland. They were ‘in lumber,’ which was a polite way of saying they cut down some trees.”
Cindy Ratzlaff’s family were the Selfs (“not one of the big clans”) who left New York to end up in Minnesota, where she was born, “passing the Kinneys along the way,” she joked.