Monday, January 21, 2013

Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were


“There was this Italian singer Vick Damone. Oh, he was just a little jerk washed up singer.”

When I said I hadn’t heard of him, Jorge said,

“He did a variety show in the 60s.”

I was talking to Jorge, a very quiet man, who works at the grocery store I’ve gone to all my life. He never seemed to have much to say, until I got him to open up about his amazing stories working in the Hospitality/Food business.

"Another room service waiter was assigned to him." Damone apparently demanded that he literally be served, i.e. set up his tray and feed him. Any objection was met with a string of obscenities.

“But the nicest was Tony Bennett. He chatted with me for 10 minutes, Bob Newhart was nice too.”

I was captivated. The stories were coming at me so fast I could barely keep up with them.

He was telling me about all his adventures and misadventures working at the Hilton for several years prior to working at our local Grocer's.

“It all started by accident,” he said. He started working at the grocery store as a cashier and a bagger at first. He went in to get his paycheck one day and his supervisor said that they needed some help in the bakery.

“Would you like to help them,” his boss asked.

So he went in just to help doing things like packing the cookies and pies. The supervisor was so impressed and asked if he wanted to work here permanently.
Jorge thought he was joking.  Doing packaging soon eased into baking.

He started filling in at other departments, one of which was the bread station. This was where he found his niche. He worked here for several years before he transferred to the Hilton Hotels and Resorts.

He still worked part time at the grocery store 3 nights a week, while doing room service mornings and afternoons at the Hilton.

It sounded like a really cool job, but I know that stress often runs high in the hospitality service. What was the stress level like, I asked.

“The stress level is perpetrated by department managers, who were very authoritative.”

He said that Hilton had a habit of hiring immigrants to manage departments. “You have these foreigners ruling departments with an iron fist. “The regular people were very nice. But it was tough working for these ‘little Hitlers.’”

In Sarasota, Florida, the Hilton he worked concierge/room service at was across from an amphitheater where many “washed up, has-beens, retired comedians and singers” frequently performed. So he dealt with celebrities, musicians, movie stars, and lots of retired millionaires. “They were always the most difficult to work with.” 

“Diana Ross, sometime in the 90s tried to get the Supremes back together. Well, it was a disaster,” He said as a side note. “She’s very demanding. She wanted her bed changed three times a day, flowers in her room three times a day. Barbra Streisand had a perimeter of bodyguards who wouldn’t talk to you they would talk at you.”

He told a gruesome story about working the graveyard shift at the hotel he worked at in Atlanta. He said that they had an average of about 3 “jumpers” a year. The hotel particularly attracted jumpers because of the setting of trees outside one of the windows.

One in particular split across three trees. They had to call the SWAT team to evacuate the lobby. He wryly told of a fellow hotel worker, Fran, who directed him (with no authority), “Jorge, you get some sheets and cover up that mess.”
After he moved back to Charlotte, he transferred back to our neighborhood Grocer's, which I have seen go through many changes in all of the years I have gone there. He works in the Fresh Foods Department, where he says there is no stress.

“They respect you and let you take breaks when you want.”

But I’ll bet the stories aren’t as good….

c. 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Quentin Tarantino's response


I’m not a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino movies. He's very talented;  a great director, but his stories area a little too realistic for me. I prefer lighter movies that make me laugh more and cringe less. [Though, I did enjoy Pulp Fiction]. But I caught an interview with him on NPR’s Fresh Air, with Terry Gross that really impressed me.

Whether you agree with, or even like Tarantino, consider how YOU, personally, would react if you had been asked if your work had contributed to, or caused a national tragedy.

Terry asked a valid question in light of the current news of the day and she was very nice about it. Tarantino, not backing down, presented his side nicely as well. It was all very civil, in light of such an emotionally charged topic.

They are on such polar opposite sides of the issue that they go back and forth, almost as if they can’t believe each other really exist, in an attempt to find common ground.

She asked him if he ever lost his taste for violence in his movies, in light of the Sandy Hook massacre. In a very matter of fact way, Tarantino claimed that it was separate, and one didn’t have anything to do with the other.

GROSS: So it's so completely separate, that the reality of violence doesn't affect at all your feelings about making or viewing very violent or sadistic...

TARANTINO: Sadistic? I don't know. I do know what, I don't know. I think, you know, you're putting a judgment on it.

GROSS: No, no, no...

TARANTINO: You're putting a judgment on it.

GROSS: The characters are sadistic. The characters are sadistic. I'm not talking about, you know, the filmmaker. I'm talking about the characters. I mean, the characters are undeniably sadistic.

GROSS: You sound annoyed that I'm...


TARANTINO: Yeah, I am.

GROSS: I know you've been asked this a lot.

TARANTINO: Yeah, I'm really annoyed. I think it's disrespectful. I think it's disrespectful to their memory, actually.

GROSS: With whose memory?

TARANTINO: The memory of the people who died to talk about movies. I think it's totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health.

The interview went on very cordially and easily after this. I was so impressed with both Tarantino and Gross because they both made their points without getting ugly. I have had several political conversations that have gone the opposite way. It’s easy to get caught in the passion even if you are not fully vested in the issue…and then it becomes personal with the rude comments that will often ensue.
Tarantino on defense behaved much better than a lot of people would have. He chose to respond, rather than react. He made it clear that he was annoyed, but didn’t take it out on Gross, or resort to personal attacks. I kept waiting for him to walk out, as I might have been inclined to do in my reptilian mode; but he calmly defended his work. Terry Gross handled herself better than many would have after a tense situation.

I was very impressed with this exchange because it was a true and respectful exchange of ideas. There was no yelling, just honest questions and honest responses, which is the only way to really find common ground. There are always going to be people who seem to have extreme beliefs, just because they differ from you. 

We need more of these “higher brained” exchanges.

c. 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Living your dream: Interview with Yogini and Writer, Molly O' Neill

c. Molly O'Neill

What’s it like live your dream?... To be doing exactly what you want to do?... What you were meant to do? I’ve been conducting a series of interviews called Living Your Dream. This week I interviewed Molly O’Neill.

I just finished a Modern Poetry [ModPo] class from University of Pennsylvania, through Coursera. Molly was one of the Teacher’s Assistants. Through the course of the class, I friended some fellow classmates as well as some of the TAs on Facebook.

I found out that not only was Molly an Ivy League poetry expert, but she is living my dream career as a self-employed writer, blogger and yoga teacher. I wanted to find out how she did it, and how she handles her stress.

Hi Molly. Thanks so much for doing this! Tell me a little about the time-line for your career. Which came first? Was yoga a way to keep sane from the writing? [or maybe vice versa].

I've been a writer since I was a kid. My mom is a journalist/editor and my dad taught 7th grade English and Literature, so it's definitely in the blood. I used to journal a ton and write a bit of poetry, and English classes have always been really easy and enjoyable for me.

Yoga was something I had been wanting to try for a while, and they offered classes at my gym, so I began practicing a couple of days a week. I've always been really athletic and competitive, so I was pretty skeptical at first. But I slowly learned to surrender, and my yoga practice took over and replaced all my other exercise routines (besides walking the dogs and riding a bike for transportation). I actually didn't become certified as a teacher until just this past August - I've only been practicing for two years! I had some money saved and the ModPo filming was ending, so I had some free time, and it seemed like a good time to do a teacher training. I did a month-long intensive YogaWorks 200-hour training at my local studio, Dhyana, and began offering donation classes pretty much immediately afterward. Within a couple of months, I was subbing a ton and managed to snag my own class at one of the big gyms here in the city. 

What is your writing specialty? I met you in a poetry class, where you were one of the TAs. Do you write poetry? As a writer, myself, I know the stresses of marketing, wondering if it’s worth it to stress about a client who is on a completely different wavelength. Tell me some of your best stories.

You know, I don't really write poetry. I went through a phase where I did - I actually won the Iris N. Spencer Undergraduate Poetry Prize for a sonnet I wrote about Morrissey (no joke!). I got to read at the West Chester Poetry Conference - I think this was in 2009. But I'm a nonfiction writer/blogger/memoirist. I'm at my best when I'm learning other people's stories or exploring my own. I love people, and I love drawing them out, and finding stories in unexpected places. I live for the moment when the angle reveals itself in conversation. I'm a profiler at heart.

I'm also really into food writing. I got my start writing for Penn's food magazine, Penn Appétit, which was the first of its kind in the country. It's a pretty great little publication. I'm a huge locavore so I've blogged about cooking and eating locally, growing your own food, etc. I've written about a lot of local artisans who cook or otherwise make awesome stuff. Like I said, it's all about the people behind the product.

What about cold Pennsylvania attracted you from sunny California? Was it culture shock, or at least climate shock when you got there?

Actually, the story is much more complicated than California to Pennsylvania. I really wanted to get the heck out of NorCal, so when I was 17, I moved to New York to study journalism at NYU. There were several complicated years following, during which I left NYU, moved back home, moved to North Carolina to study at UNC-Chapel Hill, dropped out, moved to Philly, and spent several years spinning my wheels before applying to transfer into Penn. Truth be told, I made several of those decisions based on romantic relationships. I also converted to Mormon and got engaged somewhere in the middle there…but that's a story I'm still figuring out how to tell.

Culture and climate shock, yes - the urban setting wasn't entirely new after my time in NYC, but Philly is a different animal. It's got a certain grit and danger, but also a very small-town feel once you've been here a short time. And I still hate the cold. I'm miserable in wintertime. I now save up to take a vacation somewhere warm every winter, just for a week, so I can have something to look forward to.

What did you study at University of Pennsylvania?
Penn doesn't have a Journalism major, so I studied English with a Creative Writing concentration. Because of all the transferring and time off, I didn't receive my BA until I was 26.

What does a typical day look like for you now?
I'm not sure I really have a "typical day." During the week, I'm usually up around 8 to walk the dogs, then I head to yoga for a 90-minute practice. I come home, cook myself brunch, shower and work for a few hours. "Work" usually means freelance writing (mostly journalism, a bit of copywriting) or taking care of administrative details to further my career as a yoga teacher. It could also mean blogging, doing research, etc. Then maybe I teach a class, see friends, have dinner, walk the dogs some more, etc. Some days I teach yoga at the beginning of the day, and practice at the end. Or practice after teaching, at the studio or at home. Some days I practice at the studio and come home and practice some more. I like to meditate in the evenings; that's something I'm trying to integrate more consistently into my days.

On the weekends, I still work as a bartender. I'm so new in my career(s) and so fresh out of school (May 2011!) that I haven't found a better way to make ends meet. Plus, I'm really into craft beer, and it's a good social outlet for me. 

My boyfriend is a yoga teacher, among other things, as well. So I know first-hand, that it is not completely the stress-free a job it might seem. Tell me a little about what sorts of yoga practices you lead.

My first instinct was to teach very intense Vinyasa flow classes [a faster paced, more choreographed practice]. But as I begin to ease into my skin as a teacher, I'm finding that my priorities are alignment and focus. I do like to flow, but I like to do so in a very meditative manner. I like to hold poses for a long time to really lock them in, achieve the full benefits, and challenge myself and my students. That's something I learned from my teacher Joan Hyman - once you find the pose, and you stay quiet in it for more than a few breaths, "that's where you find the yoga."

Of course it all depends on the weather, the moon, the season, and what's going on in my own life. I spent the post-Christmas week teaching very quiet, meditative flows with lots of twisting for detoxification and really gentle backbending. Next week for the new year I'll be focusing on the foundation - starting from the feet and working into the hamstrings and hips to begin to open up possibilities from a very grounded place. [It's funny, I'm noticing how my authorial voice changes when I start to talk about yoga…"teacher voice" really has a way of taking over!]

c Al Filreis. Screenshot from a Modpo video discussion
of Ron Silliman's “Albany” Molly is on the far right.
You are self-employed, which lessens stress in one sense. You are your own boss so you don’t have to worry about bureaucracy, displeasing ignorant higher-up bosses who have never set foot in your class. Yet it heightens it in another, everything is your responsibility.

First of all, there is ALWAYS bureaucracy. When I freelance, I have editors who want certain things. If I want to continue writing and get paid, I need to keep them happy. When I go into a new gym/studio and audition, I have to make the owner/director happy if I want to get hired. I have to keep my numbers up if I want to keep my classes. I think being self-employed is really a lot more difficult, BUT I find that it's worth it to be able to make my own schedule, spend time at home, etc. And I'm doing what I love, which is worth a LOT.

How do you combine the artsy side with the business side? Many artists I know, myself included, have a really hard time with this. What advice do you have for people trying to meld their right and left brains?

I still have a really hard time with all of that. I'm really dependent on my iPhone calendar to remind me when things are due or when I have meetings or classes. I definitely think the best strategy is asking for help - I'm always turning to my mentors for business advice, and reaching out to friends for help with accounting/web stuff/photography/pitching/making contacts/etc. For me, it takes a village to do anything! Of course, the golden rule is to always, always make a list.

What is your stress personality? Some people know how to let it roll off of their back, while others ruminate, tossing them in their heads all day. How do you prioritize what to stress about? What is your best stress-busting tip?

I tend to get stuck in my head a lot. It's been a pretty tumultuous year for me - I did my Yoga Teacher Training, then left a five-year relationship, accidentally moved in with a crazy roommate who also happened to work at my restaurant, had to move a second time within a two-month period…so you can imagine the financial/physical/emotional turmoil I've been through in the last six months. You can see it on my face toward the end of some of the ModPo videos. Poetry does make me cry, but there were other factors at work there.

Yoga is my stress-buster. It's my way of turning off the voices in my head telling me that life is too hard, that I made too many mistakes, that I'm not doing the right thing. Yoga - and not just asana (the poses); I'm also talking about the other seven limbs, particularly the ones related to meditation - helps me see clearly. It helps me find gratitude when my immediate reaction is to complain or cry. It gives me a community to turn to. It makes me laugh. It gives me immediate goals to work for. It teaches me to be gentle with myself. It helps me to turn outward, to share and teach, when I'd rather hide. It humbles me. 

As far as prioritizing stress, I always think of the Serenity prayer, which is something I grew up with. Although I'm not a believer in "God" as Western society characterizes him/her/it, I think that those first few lines convey a powerful message:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Yoga also teaches us this idea of letting go, and this is how I manage my stress - accepting that some things just are. They may be negative, unpleasant, painful, but we must simply acknowledge and embrace them as part of our human experience. The more we move inward, toward our own true nature, the less those outward forces can affect us.

And with the other stuff - the stuff we can change, the stuff that needs to be taken care of - make a list! And then start doing the work of crossing those things off.

Thank you so much Molly! This has been great!

Molly is a regular blogger for HyLo Boutiques, Grid Magazine, and  Philadelphia Generocity. 

 c. 2013