Friday, January 29, 2010

...the milk for free.

At Beauty School there are a few themes the faculty try to drum into our heads. Principles of cosmetology that are so important to our future careers that if one doesn't practice them religiously they will fail. Things like sanitation, through client consultation, and most important off all DO NOT WORK FOR FREE. An exception can be made for immediate family as long as you live in the same house. Or for a close friend and/or family member who does things for you that would otherwise cost money (like making your kid elaborate Halloween costumes or watching your dog) Again and again we are told of the dangers of doing hair for free. "If you do it for free, they'll expect it forever, there is no going back. When you get a job they will not come to you as a client....If you compromise on money, you compromise yourself. You'll die in poverty." We're told that the friends and acquaintances who let us "practice" on them now should at least cover the cost of product. And even then, we really should charge them AT LEAST SOMETHING beyond our cost of materials.

Why don't advertising agencies do this? If this message had been drilled into us advertising professionals throughout our careers (and from the very beginning), how different the business would be today. If getting paid a fair wage for our work was the widely accepted way of doing business, marketers might be embarrassed to ask for reduced fees, or no fees. There'd be no "tuck ins" We wouldn't even think to offer reduced commission rates; it would humiliate us in front of our peers. It would peg us as an inferior shop. Unfortunately, like I'm being told a couple of times a week THERE IS NO GOING BACK.

What's in a Name?

My husband and son (brother and best-friend's husband) are named "John." It's a pretty common name. If we're out in public, in Target for instance, and John's on one end of the aisle and I'm on the other and I shout "John," it is likely that at least one other guy will turn towards me thinking I'm looking for him. If I call for my husband in a very crowded venue -- say the St. X game at Nippert Stadium -- at least four other guys will turn around thinking I'm calling to them. Because my name is somewhat unusual, I've never had the experience of someone calling for me and finding it's not me they want but the other "Cynthia." Until now.

There's "Cynthia" in one of the other classes, so when all three classes are together on Saturdays we're in the same class. This other Cynthia is about 21 years old, small and thin, missing a couple of her front teeth and has hair of many colors often including at least one fantasy color. She has a strong Appalachian accent and it's difficult for me to understand her speech.

Last Saturday Cynthia and I were working in the same class room. Because Cynthia is at the end of Phase I and knows a lot of stuff, students from her regular class kept calling out to her from across the room to come help them with the assignment (which was foils). Every time I'd hear her name, I would turn around. After about three times I was getting really irrattated but would then think "so this is why it drives John so crazy." It kept happening all day, and every single time I'd respond by turning my body toward the call and having that quizzical look on my face that says "Yes? Can I help you?"

Yesterday the classes were together again for a special lecture. Seeing the other Cynthia reminded Ruby and Tomeesha of the hilarious joke they were playing on me last Saturday. Once they noticed that I turned around every time my name was called, they started doing it on purpose. You really have to hear them tell the story to fully appreciate it, but I'll try: "Miss Cynthia, it was so funny. You turnin' around every time we call yo name and looking all like 'what?' Then we'd be actin all like we don't know who's calling you. And you getting all aggravated. Then we'd wait a minute and do it again. We was weak. It was so funny."

I remember when I first enrolled, but hadn't started school yet, a friend of mine told me "you're going to need a beautician name." Kind of like a stripper name. And it's weird but most of the ladies' names do end in a vowel or a "y." Along with the - ishas and - tricas, the Brittneys and Ashleys, "Cynthia" really kind of fits right in after all.

In advertising and marketing I noticed that there were a lot of men with very powerful jobs named "Lou" or "Ed." At one point I was working for a CMO named "Ed," (Lands' End) a CEO named "Eddie" (Kmart) and my actual boss-boss Ed Meyer (the former grand poo-ba of Grey Global Group). I'd call them "Ed, Ed & Eddie" -- you know, that Nickelodeon

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bringing Sexy Back

A bunch of people needed to do "check outs" (practical tests) so I volunteered to be the "client." I got a manicure, make-up, and my hair styled. Ruby had me in the chair while she flat-ironed my hair and it went like this:

Ruby: Miss Cynthia we gonna make you sexxxxxyyyyyy... your husband gonna be all "'baby, baby, whoa baby'.. when you get home"

Asia: You should go to the club with us Miss Cynthia, you be all sexy and everything. You got yourself some heels?

Me: The only heels I have are business-lady pumps (which isn't really true because back when I worked in advertising my friend Cheryl inspired me to get some really nice shoes -- but they really hurt my feet)

Ruby: (in a sing-song voice I can't even begin to figure out how to describe here) sexy, sexy, sexy.... Miss Cynthia is so sexy.....

Me: Ruby I am too fat to be sexy

Asia: What you talkin' 'bout?? (said with indignation and incredulousness), fat girls is IN right now!

Who knew?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

School Days

I never punched a time clock before. You have to line up the little rectangle with the printer thingy. It took me about a week to catch on. Soon we're going to a finger print clock. People don't like change.

We've finished all the anatomy and physiology, chemistry and electricity. Finally back to hair -- which style goes with which shaped head, hair, life style and maintenance schedule.

Isis and I are brainstorming a beauty school reality show that uses an actual soundtrack but is acted out with Barbies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bizzaro World

I had to leave school half an hour early today to attend a meeting of the second grade religious education teachers. The agenda focussed on the First Communion ceremony, but also included a few of the activities that will lead up to the sacrament.

At 2:25 I was on my iPhone looking up a hair-cut from the Tyler Perry Movie "I Can Be Bad All By Myself," so I could show the two girls doing cuts what it was that their "clients" wanted. Once I got the trailer going, Ruby yelled from across the room "Show me Miss Cynthia." I said "you've gotta come over here if you want to see it, I have to leave in a minute." She wouldn't walk over, so I went to her.

Ruby is really nuts. One time I was standing next to her, rolling up a perm on a mannequin head, and she just turns to me and asks "Miss Cynthia, you ever have your clitoris pierced?" I did quite the double-take (as you can imagine) and burst out laughing. She says "really, I want to know, 'cause you know I ain't never known anyone like you before."

Seriously, I cannot make this stuff up.

So one minute I'm talking with the ladies (after having completed my thermal curl check-out) and then I leave to go to my meeting. I drive three minutes down the street. It's about a quarter of a mile to the church, down the SAME STREET. There I was, not five minutes after talking to Ruby, sitting at a table with a bunch of second grade teachers (one of whom was wearing a sweat shirt with teddy-bear appliques), the choir director and the director of religious education. The priest couldn't make it. I had as much fun at that meeting as I did at Beauty School today.

I love both these worlds. I love the people in them. I feel like an anthropologist. I wonder how people from one world would fare in the other. I don't think it would be good. But I love it. It makes me happy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Junk Food Junkie

Yesterday Isis had a liter of Moutain Dew and three Reeses cups for breakfast.

The food culture in this beauty school amazes me every day. These girls eat crap all day long. Potato chips and Dr. Pepper for breakfast, Doritos throughout the morning, Burger King for lunch, then more crap in the afternoon. Admittedly, it is mostly the under 22 year olds. (Maybe all "teenagers" eat like this?) The few of us who are over 30 (Ha! I'm "over thirty," WAY over), don't do the crazy breakfast or the all-day snacking, but do indulge in the fast food lunch. Every day. We eat fast food for lunch every day, six days a week. And frankly, it's delicious. In fact, it's super-delicious.

The End Of Overeating by David Kessler ( confirms what I had learned in myriad focus groups and client's test kitchens over the years -- the food we eat is specially engineered to be super-delicious. This is all fine when you're eating the super-delicious fast food once a month (or less), but when you're eating it every day it becomes even more super-delicious (the scientists make it that way). And the Marketers and Advertisers count on it.

In the preface to Adland, James Othmer asks ".....Would you work on a fast-food account? Fried Chicken? How about fried chicken with gobs of sodium and preservatives but no trans fats and they list the calories on the bucket and they do a separate "Hey kids, don't be a fatty!" campaign and put jungle gyms and salad bars at selected locations?..." I have worked on fast food accounts. Sat in meetings discussing how not-bad our bad food was. In the pitches for those accounts we'd promised we had the magic words and pictures that would make people eat more crap. And they do.

I overhead Ruby on the phone, making a doctor's appointment for her one-year old who's diagnosis is "failure to thrive." I suspect that a large part of the issue is that his diet consists largely of noodles and Burger King. She also occasionally gives him a sip of red wine because "it's good for his heart." (The C-R-A-Z-Y health misinformation and crappy, or non-existent health care, is a subject for another post -- or another blog -- and the Congress, the House of Representatives, and the The President -- and you. But I digress... again...)

I'm switching back to salads; soup or a Subway 6" with no mayo, cheese or oil. Except on Tuesdays when wings are BOGO.

Friday, January 8, 2010

10,000 Hours

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell posits that to achieve true success at anything, one needs 10,000 hours of experience in that discipline. I was captivated by this hypothesis when I read the book two years ago, but had never related to my career. Then the other day I read a post by Jonathan Fields ( and started to think about how the 10,000 hours applies to my life; especially now.

In the past three months I have clocked 282 hours in beauty school. I am filled with excite
ment, and enthusiasm for this new chapter in my life. The last time I felt like this I had just gotten a job at DMB&B as an Assistant Account Executive on P&G's Always brand. There was so much to learn, all of it new. I was good at it; and I loved it. I loved it for a really long time. Seven years later -- at about the 10,000 hour mark -- I was "at the top of my game." I got two big promotions in rapid succession, was assigned prestigious accounts, had clients who wouldn't make a (advertising) move without consulting me, I grew existing business and won new business. I had a blast. I loved everything about the ad business. This lasted for about another 4,000 hours. Then it seemed that nothing was new, nothing was exciting. Every day, every "challenge," every client was just the same. An international move -- to a younger, hipper office where I had to learn a new language and how to drive a stick shift lighted a fire for a bit. But 1500 hours later I was back in the U.S. and the bloom was wearing off.

There's a lot of talk, and hundreds of blogs and books and magazine articles, about how the business of advertising has changed. I'm not so sure. Maybe it's that the people writing those blogs, and books and articles, are so far past their peak of 10,000 hours that they've changed. I have friends (much younger friends) working in ad agencies who are on that upward slope to 10,000; they are as exhilarated as I ever was. Their passion is palatable. It's infectious. Of course there's the insecurity of losing a client, losing billings, not getting the account, getting fired, your client or creative director getting fired (and you along with him) but it's ALWAYS been like that; that's the business. It hasn't changed at all. But back to the 10,000 hours thing....

What happens beyond the 10,000 hours? How long does one sustain that peak, and then what? What happens at 20,000 hours? (I'm sure someone could get a big fat grant to research this. But not me.)

Now that I'm in hair world I've met a lot of stylists who are way beyond 10,000 hours. They remember how great it use to be. They're talented, make a lot of money, but have just lost the joy of it. My brother, the pilot became a lawyer two years ago; his wife is a new nurse. I have two ex-ad executive friends in school studying to become counselors. There are so many stories of career change. And the happiness and energy that comes with moving up the slope to that 10,000 hour mark. It's a wonderful thing to look forward to.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Feelin' Salty

For much of the month of December I was in a jolly and generous mood. As usual, I bought gifts I could not afford, baked hundreds of gingerbread men, sent about ninety Christmas cards, decorated the house inside and out, and wrote and called elderly relatives and friends. This mood fell over into my school life where it's practical effect was that I gave people rides. I had a strong urge to buy Christmas presents for everyone -- and their kids -- so it's kind of a good thing I no longer have (what I now refer to) as "New York Money." But I digress... Back to the rides. Most of the women I'm in school with are transportation-challenged. They take the bus. Or they have an old, beat-up, unreliable car. And when you're taking the bus because it's what you can afford, it's not like taking the bus (or the train) in New York (where you take it because it's the fastest way to get where you're going. In fact, last week (when I was in New York) I noticed several women in mink coats and people reading kindles on the subway -- that's new... People with big "New York Money" on the F train. But again I digress.) Taking the bus in Cincinnati is a real pain in the ass because the bus does not go where you're going; so you have to go way out of your way, and then change buses to get where you're going -- which is usually to work. So in addition to going to school twenty-five hours a week, they're working twenty-five to thirty hours a week. I don't know how they do it. Especially when you factor in the freakin' bus. And kids! I can drive from school to Hyde Park in about twenty minutes. On the bus it takes about an hour an a half (cause you have to change busses down-town).

So in my happy, generous Christmas mood I started giving people rides. Rides to their second bus stop, rides to work, rides home. I actually enjoy the time with my new friends. But there are also people I don't like very much who ask for rides; and abuse my generosity. And now it's January and I'm all salty (see post from 11/10/09) and I don't want to give rides. I need time to do my own stuff. I start thinking things like "well if you'd stayed in high school," "if you hadn't had a baby when you were 15," "if you did have SEVEN children," "if you weren't stoned all the time....." So I'm all salty and getting saltier because the bus stop in front of school got moved about a quarter of a mile up the road and with all the complaining you'd think it was two miles away. "Hell -- In New York, I walked to the station from my house, and from Grand Central Station to my office five city blocks away -- in the rain, snow, heat, cold. And it was nothing, nothing! And you're NOT EVEN 30 YEARS OLD -- GET USE TO IT." I've been thinking.

Then just a few hours later, as I sat down to teach CCD to second graders, I was struck by the opening Bible reading from Matthew 25:40

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these
least brothers of mine, you did for me.

So now I feel like a total shit, and am trying to be more like Jesus. And really, the new bus stop is on my way home anyway.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Give the Client What They Want

I got to do a lot of hair over my Christmas break. Color on five different heads, and cuts on three. In only one case did I execute my recommendation. This is because I have one niece that likes to wear her hair the same color blue as the strip at the top of this page, another who picked out a blondish red (too light for her), and another with beautiful, long, thick, Asian hair that wanted dark red highlights. Then there's the best friend who favors hot, firey reds with a short, spikey cut. I tried talking them all into something a little more conservative, more natural. But they wouldn't listen. So I went with it. And it worked out -- Blue Hair loves her look (although I think her Mom is mad at me), Red is delighted, Red Highlights on the black are actually kind of cute; but Blond-Red is getting a correction tomorrow after school (I told you so.) But still, a thank you to my GodSon Noah for letting me do what I wanted -- a cut and some highlights (he's man enough). He is adorable as always and his cut and color suit him. Everyone has such strong opinions about their hair. Like their commercials and marketing plans. You listen to your client, but then your client also has to contend with parents, or a boyfriend, or an employer (in the case of fantasy blue), a husband -- so many people have opinions about hair other than their own. Listen to your stylist and tell everyone else to worry about their own hair.

Happy New Year

I've been away from the blog for about three weeks; almost four really. I'd like say it's because I've been busy with holiday family/friends/church/school activities, fun, and obligations. But that is only part of the reason. The real reason is that I've been feeling overwhelmed by this change in my life. I'm still accepting that this change is not just something I'm playing at until the economy turns around. It's real; and I'm doing it. That alone is overwhelming. It's a difficult journey. One that is emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

And, along with this journey have come new friendships and a new intimacy with the working poor. I'm overwhelmed by the juxtapositions of my new life and my old -- the subject of this blog. There are so many topics to write about children, substance abuse, unemployment, health care, men, beauty, hair, retailers, food, debt, parents, education, transportation, sex, friendship, religion, movies, politics, networking -- in short, everything that touches all our lives. Is the blog about my career transition; about how beauty school is like, or not like, advertising; or is it about experiencing a foreign culture? Lately I haven't know where to start. I struggle with the transparency necessary to make this blog engaging.

So I'm going to break it down by topic and then slice it even thinner. Like.... I'll tell you about the day I got in trouble for texting during class. It was amusing because that same day, I got a survey from the Business Courier about business etiquette, the main focus of which was blackberry use (in meetings or in the midst of a face-t0-face conversation). You know who YOU ARE. I thought "wouldn't if be great if in business you could throw the offender out of the meeting and make them go home? Like in school." I didn't have to leave or go home, but I won't be texting in class any time soon.