Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two Worlds

Over the past twenty-seven years I've spent hundreds of hours, maybe thousands, behind two-way mirrors listening to people talk about their lives and about the products, concepts, and advertising we wanted to "make meaningful to them." I always loved the focus group. It's anthropology. You learn so much about people and why they buy what they do; why they do the things they do. The consumers on the other side of the mirror are smart and stupid, funny, boring, crazy, weird, amusing; which ever, you always learn something.

Now six days a week I get to be immersed into this totally new, and until now, foreign culture. It's as if I get on a plane and travel across the world every morning, but I'm only four minutes from my house. I've been thinking about what it is that makes this beauty school culture so different. Is it an age thing? A Black thing? A Woman thing? It's somewhat of an age thing. Like the twenty-somethings taking over the ad world, these women are transparent (they'll talk about personal stuff you can't believe), they're freakin' funny (not as funny as my ad-friends Seb and Aaron but close), and they spend a lot of energy on men/dating (trying to get laid -- just like their age cohort in ad world.) There's definitely a Black thing -- but that is so far out of my purview, at this point I need "table" it. Even with the "Black thing" what is really different for me is the Woman thing. Until now I have NEVER been in an environment with all women. Hell, I went to an all boys high school! Have always worked in groups managed and directed by men. Even the women I worked for were men -- in management style. You have to be. It is SO different in girl land. Girl land is vertical -- everyone has a "say." Everyone has feelings, and stories, and offers advice. There's consensus, discussion. In man land there are decisions and actions and people take charge. I'm trying to sit back and observe it -- like the focus group. To understand it and maybe even embrace it. But I can't help thinking to myself things like "could you get on with the freakin' story?" "Why are we STILL talking about this?" "When are we going to get back to the lesson?" OMG -- they go on, and on, and on. Some years ago I was considering a career move into the world of non-profits -- I was warned that people from the for-profit, corporate world do not do well there. Especially people from advertising. It's too "touchy-feely." So for now I'm observing, trying not be be frustrated but what I can't help thinking of as "all this nonsense", and waiting for the next hilarious quip.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


How much fun did you have a work or school today? I had more!

"Good Hair"

See Chris Rock's Good Hair. You don't have to have a passion for hair styling (like I do), but if you're interested in people and culture, and want to laugh, see this film. Jason Giggers is my hero (sort of).


The predictability of life is beauty school is a pleasure. Every day I know what I'll be doing -- theory in the morning and practicals in the afternoon. I look forward to it and can plan for it. Like today. We're studying make-up -- every day, glamour and halloween. There will be a written test. There will be school-wide contest for Halloween make-up. I'm going to do a ghoul and a cat.

This is the TOTAL OPPOSITE of advertising where every day I would go in, mentally planning my day -- what I needed to do, what I wanted to do. Most days I'd write a list; jot down ideas. Then by 9:20 in the morning BAM!!!BAM!!!BAM!!! the day would be completely derailed by a client, or a new rfp, an agency principle, or a force of nature.

I realize now how incredibly stressful that was. I knew at the time... but being released from the constant stress of having no control over the day is truly liberating. I feel so happy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Disco is back

All afternoon while we'er doing our practicals we listen to Q107. By day two I thought I was so cool because I really liked the music. However, once I went to the iTunes store to buy it and add some songs to my play-list I realized that DISCO IS BACK. That was so sneaky. I loved it then, and I love it now. So if you baby boomers out there need something new (and slightly with-it) for your workout play-list check out:

Jay Sean's Down (Lil Wayne)
Ne-Yo's Closer
Boys Like Girls, Love Drunk
and of course,.... Chris Brown's Forever

Sunday, October 25, 2009


You're in the salon, you're head is in the shampoo bowl, your Stylist is massaging shampoo and conditioner on your scalp. If feels good, you zone out. If you're a white-anglo-saxon-protestant like me (from a family where they kiss the dogs, but never the children and the scent of a martini reminds you of Grandma), being so physically close to someone, especially a "stranger," is a little weird, but you make yourself relax and enjoy. Well this week I learned that from the other side it's a completely different experience. At least for this WASP-child-of-privalage. When I've colored friends' and family's hair they usually rinse the color out themselves; in the shower. But I did get a snapshot of the weirdness of washing someone's hair when I did a double process on Anna (niece) and then on Amy (best friend). Amy put it best, exclaiming with a laugh "this is different, it's like you're my mother." Anna, being 16 was blunt, "this is really weird, it's so.... so... subservient. I'll wash my own hair now."

"Shampooing" is tested for the State Board, so I needed to learn it. Miss Lisa asked if anyone wanted to shampoo Kennisha's hair (before she was getting a roller set by another student). I volunteered. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had never even touched black hair before (except maybe when I was making-out with Tony Mitchell at Harvard weekend... and I certainly don't remember is Hair!....but that's another story). As soon as I put the towel around Kennisha's neck and draped the cape around her I knew this is going to be something completely different from anything I've ever experienced. Her hair is so soft, and full. Miss Lisa came over to show me the correct way to wash and rinse. Since when my head is in the bowl I really do love the massage, so I tried to do a lot of that. I squirted Kennisha in the face once (handed her a towel); but mostly I massaged her hair and tried to articulate (to myself) what I was feeling. What I felt was that she was a little child -- I had this surge of feeling protective and loving. I thought about how my mother was essentially raised by the Negro nanny/housekeeper, Beatrice. I thought of all the generations of privalaged white women in my family; and the Black women who took care of them. Now now here i was washing the hair of a black women. Did I mention that Kennisha is the woman who "couldn't keep no weave in there?" (see earlier post.) I got this big welling up of emotional ad gratitude. I thought of the washing of the feet at Lent. Which before I only understood on the most intellectual level. Now I felt it, really felt it. It was a transcendent experience.

Doing someone's hair is so incredibly intimate. The only other "stranger' who'll get that close to you is a doctor. On top of that, "hair," for a lot women is such an emotional area. It can make you feel wonderful and beautiful and sexy; or make you feel like crap.

Oh, and on Saturday (I have to go to school on Saturday's too) I wash the hair hair of some dumb-ass white girl before I used the Marcel iron to style it into awesome big, all over curls. It was somewhat intense, but I can see that by the fourth or fifth time, washing hair will be like doing the dishes -- maybe.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Email to a friend

Today's update is an email I sent to a friend this morning. (He's got a new blog: No time for an "original" update -

Wow, your blog looks really good. I need to do something like that. But I HAVE NO TIME! School is six days a week from 9 - 3. I've got Mom stuff to do from the time I get home at 3:30 to 5:30 when JJ goes to football, then prep for the religious ed class I'm teaching -- or the actual class (on Monday's) or parent meetings for the class. Last night I spent an hour and a half doing a friends hair for a wedding. I try to pay some attention to my husband and go to sleep by 9:30 -- cause the alarm goes off at 5:30. Saturday afternoons (after class) I've got JJ's football games -- they're in the playoffs so that'll last a while longer.... I'm hoping to get to the blog design this Sunday for a bit. If only I could bring MY computer to school. there's a lot of sitting around waiting for the clock to roll to break time or 3:00. The theory part (the book learnin') moves pretty damn slow; but I am learning A LOT. I spend the extra time reading other chapters in the massive text book. The practical takes all afternoon and that goes quickly. Yesterday I did two roller sets... a regular and a spiral. Know any 85 year old women I can practice that on?

Gotta go -- today we're doing waxing and halloween make-up. I think I'll be Snow White with a Brazilian!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Mr. Tim was talking about client loyalty and how word-of-mouth builds up your clientele. Exactly what EVERY marketer is trying to do with social media. It'll work for a hair stylist, but not for canned ravioli. Hear that canned ravioli? Any way, he was telling us a story about the time he gave a Delta flight attendant a very short hair cut. The cut was so flattering that many other flight attendants came to him -- after a while he had about six clients purposely scheduling lay-overs in Cincinnati (a former Delta Hub) just to get their hair cut by him. The students were impressed but skeptical. I mean really, who would travel like that... so far out of their way to get a hair cut?
Me, me, me! The year I lived in Mexico I came to NY twice to get my hair colored by Johanna at Bumble + Bumble! And even now whenever I go to NY I make sure to go to Bliss (at the W at Lex and 48th)for waxing.
Several times a day I'm just HIT, like a truck, with how different my life is....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Today I did foils. I'm pretty good at it. As for the rest -- I don't even know where to start. Maybe tomorrow. One thing that's the same for advertising and beauty school is that everyone wears black. Black is the new black; actually there never really was a "new" black.


Status use to be a two-window office, an Aeron chair, the latest Blackberry and a secretary. Now it appears to be linked to the required beauty school smock -- worn out of the building when doing errands or picking up BK/KFC/Coney's at lunch. I can't get on that just yet.

So Different

I'm a three minute drive from my house but it's like I flew twenty hours and landed in a completely different culture. It is SO interesting. I could have gone to the Aveda school -- with the other upscale college graduates. But the program is ridged and there is no part-time program. Then there was the Redken school; with a middle class/upper middle class student body. But they don't offer a part-time program or rolling admission. So I'm with the Sista's at Western Hills. The Administration are very flexible, and forgiving on attendance (in case I have interviews, networking events, etc); and the rolling admissions let me dive right in. Immediately I am actually getting to work on hair and can see that there's a lot to learn. Because of the flexible structure, students get a lot of individual attention. Which I desperately need. I'm doing great on the book learning; but when it comes to doing the hair I have NO IDEA. It's the opposite for the girls that started with me -- they've been doing hair since they could walk and are awesome at it. (But are nervous about the academics.)

Last night I got a email requesting an interview for an ad job. They want to see me Friday or Monday in Lousiville (main office). A friend recommended me for this position and they got all excited by me resume. The job description sounded like a good fit. I very conflicted --- thinking that after just two days I'd be a beauty school drop out. Even though I'd move to the part-time program if I were able to actually get another "big" job. When I read to the end of the two page job description and got to the salary range I discovered that the compensation is less than half of what I was making at my last "big" job. I still might go on the interview though; you never know.

Quote of the day (from yesterday): "When I was incarcerated I had braids, 'cause you can't keep no weave in there." I heard this as I was quietly working on my color wheel -- and I'm thinking "Did I hear that right?!"

Am working on getting RSS feed and twitter updates and will post more amazing/funny/interesting stuff. There is a TON of it. But wanted to get the background down today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Day

All the teachers are "Miss." Like in preschool -- Miss Lisa, Miss Stella, Miss Ebony, Miss Karen, etc. We started right in with color -- which is great because that is my favorite. I'm the only one that asks questions. Two girls put their heads down on the table during the lecture and one was actually asleep. It's like high school. In fact the hardest part for me is that you have to leave your phone in your locker - - only allowed to use it during the 45 minute lunch break. Today I'm going to have to copy 50 questions and answers into my note book. I don't think I've every had to do something like that, ever. But I was always in the "smart class." No smart class in beauty school. I'm feeling self conscious about my grammar and vocabulary. I'm going to try to keep my head down and my mouth shut. 'Cause frankly even though I finished my touch-up application early and will excellence; I SUCKED at doing finger waves. (Does anyone actually wear finger waves any more?)
First day and already we were told that "Pantene is a terrible product. NEVER use Pantene." I think they're wrong about that. When I briefly worked on that brand they told us it was developed from burn medication and was great for hair. I'd like to know who the myth of "bad Pantene" got started among salons/stylists. My Marketing Brain will have to look into that one.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Old Life

Cocktails at Skybar, riding a bike around Stanley Park in Vancouver, the amazing 5-star hotels, shooting on the beach in Malibu. Delta Gold Medallion. The thrill of seeing "my" ad on TV (or in print, OOH, the web). Working out a marketing plan, and seeing my strategic plans executed in award winning campaigns. The half hour I had to spend on the phone with a client at my son's first communion (and again at a friend's wedding) with a client who "had an idea." Not unlike Don Draper and Connie Hilton. The 26 hour return trip from Detroit to NY. Driving to Dayton in a terrible ice storm to make a flight (missed it). The disappointment of pitches not won; the euphoria of getting the assignment. The politics and power plays.

And now I set off into a completely different culture. Totally alien to me. Today is my first day of Beauty School...

Friday, October 9, 2009


I have never had to "prove" that I graduated from high school. But for Beauty School you need to show your high school diploma. Something to do with the state licensing board. You can show your college diploma, but that's not the one they care about. Problem was that my high school diploma does not say the work "high school" on it any where. I'm probably the first person from Horace Mann to go to beauty school, ever. I had to explain "well, it's a snooty private school in New York City and they assume everyone just knows." So then we move on to the college diploma. Problem with that one was that it's all in Latin.
I only got a perplexed look from the Director. Luckily, I was able to produce a college transcript that noted the awarded degree and the fact that I graduated from high school -- all in English with an official stamp. (Transcript was originally obtained for my Mexican working Visa back in 1992 when I worked in the Mexico City office for Grey.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The beginning

I was let go from my job on April 21st. Three days before my 50th birthday. I had been fired twice before (which is like never in advertising). The first time in 1988 I had a job in twenty four hours with a 30% raise. The second time in 2008 it took me three weeks and I took a 18% pay cut. Those times I was very upset. This time I felt immense relief. All I could think was “I don’t have to come back here tomorrow. Yeah!” Now it’s five months later, that last agency has gotten rid off all the senior advertising people — the ECD, the President…. not sure what will happen there. Seems everyone is trying something new and is in transition. But, advertising is a young people’s business. Hell, the new worldwide creative director at Grey is under 40 (I think). Even for the under 40’s the job market is D-E-A-D. The only way to move forward is to reinvent yourself. So I am… or I will.

I’m actually lucky, luckier than a lot of friends in the same situation. I have a husband with a great job that he loves (with health insurance and all the rest); but more importantly, for a long time I’ve had a passion for something totally unrelated to to what I’ve been doing for the last twenty-eight years. Now I can follow that passion and make what use to be a crazy pipe-dream into reality. I’d like to give a shout out to MIchael Gate Gill who’s book How Starbucks Saved My Life( is helping me keep my head through this transition. More on the book (and my head) later…. for now; the big news is that…

I’m going back to school for a degree in Cosmetology Management! That’s right, Beauty School. For the past 15 years whenever I’ve been bored in a meeting I’d start critiquing everyone’s hair. To myself, of course. I’ve also been doing color, cut and styling for relatives and friends for quite some time. I start school the week after next. It’ll take between 11 and 14 months to finish. It’s an 1800 hour program. The first 400 hours are class room; then I move to the “clinic” salon.

I think I’m really going to like salon life. Just think, the client is out of the chair in 40 minutes!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extended Profile

For twenty years I had a career as an advertising “account guy.” Most of that time was spent at Grey Worldwide in New York City. When I left, I had a nicely appointed office with a sofa, country French desk and wall unit, and an Aeron chair. I had a Blackberry and a secretary, and a view of the East River. On a really clear day I could see all the way to Connecticut. In my time in advertising I was lucky enough to travel all over the country – for meetings, focus groups, or commercial shoot. I even got to live in Mexico City for a year while I helped our office there win an account and then stayed to get it up and running. My ads won awards; and I won new business. For a long, long time I loved it. But in addition to all the perks and trappings, I also had prescriptions for Zoloft, Effexor and Xanax. In 2006 I moved my family out of NYC to a more sane life in the mid-West city of Cincinnati. I threw away the anti-anxiety meds and tried to adjust to life in a cubicle.

Then on April 21, 2009, three days before a "milestone birthday," I was let go from my job as Vice-President Account Director; for the second time in a year. Being let go came as a huge surprise because two weeks earlier I had been in the meeting were “we” were going over the personnel that could be eliminated to make up our $2 million budget short fall. As soon as I was called to come to the CFO’s office I realized what was going down, and thought to myself “this makes perfect sense, I should have thought of it.” It was pretty obvious that the job I was actually doing every day could be done just as well (maybe better) by a senior Account Executive for less than half the price. Who wouldn’t take that deal?

I initially thought I’d just move on to something else – something related to my former positions, but a little different. I was pretty burned out. Because my resume includes the golden tickets of large Procter & Gamble brands (and some other big names), I have always gotten any job interview I wanted. With very few exceptions I’ve gotten any job I wanted.

This time was different. There’s a deep recession, agency billings continue to shrink daily, and shops all over town continue to drastically cut staff. I know a lot of people who are out of work. In Cincy and NYC. And come to think of it, almost EVERYONE I know who was once a VP is either unemployed or drastically underemployed.

I’ve sort of had the idea that I didn’t want another big ad job; certainly not with an ad agency. But the money was/is awesome so I continue to try to find something that I wouldn’t totally hate. It did not go well. Largely because I had committed the three deadly sins of an advertising career – “50/50/150.” I was fifty years old, fifty pounds overweight and my salary hovered around the $150K mark. (For those of you who now have your panties in a bunch over that compensation level, suffice it to say that I am rounding. That number in Cincinnati was quite a bit less, the number in NYC was quite a bit more.)

At the sixth month mark of my unemployment, a friend recommended that I read Michael Gates Gill’s book How Starbucks Saved My Life. It’s the story of an ex Ad Guy who always had a passion for, and interest in, coffee. After getting fired from JWT and totally screwing up his life, Gates becomes a happy barista at Starbucks. (Coincidentally he works at the Bronxville Starbucks; which use to be MY Starbucks.)

Like Mike Gates, I’ve always had a passion for something other than advertising. It’s hair! For YEARS I’ve sat in meetings thinking about everyone’s hair. While others were texting, checking their email or thinking about sex, I’d be critiquing haircuts and color – the good and the bad, wondering where they get it done, thinking how I’d change it (if it were bad). When my friends were all getting married in the late ‘80’s I’d give them an up-do for the wedding. The past couple of years I’ve been doing color and styling for friends and family. Several times I’ve looked into going to beauty school. But because of the hours necessary for the big ad job, and the fact that “part time” beauty school is four nights a week and all day Saturday, it was just never do-able.

Luckily for me, I have an awesome, supportive (and pretty cute) husband with a great job that he loves. Also lucky for me was our decision four years ago to get the hell out of NYC. The move allowed us to have a house we love that is below our means (at least it was when I was working). And, while we’ve had to give up some things (HBO, European vacations, regular vacations, new clothes, fancy restaurants, new cars, the gardener, buying books, magazine subscriptions, entertaining, expensive hair cuts & color…..) I haven’t felt a significant change in lifestyle. At least most days.

If you’re going to be following this blog, the other thing you need to know about me is that although I’m passing for Italian now (thanks to that hot Italian husband mentioned above), I was raised by “old money” WASPs. The money, has been long, long-gone. But the way I was raised you’d think we’d had real trust funds – clad in Lilly Puliitzer and Izod we attended private schools, learned to sail at the country club, and thought the open bar on the kitchen counter the entire months of July and August (and December) was something everyone had.

The blog is about how I’m learning to turn my hobby into my new profession. About adjusting to life in the culture of beauty school. As my former colorist (at Bumble + Bumble) told me, “you are going to meet some real characters!”