What I’m wondering right now is exactly how I got to this point. I’m looking at myself from the outside in, wondering wow, why, how. I used to go to Bloomingdales (or somewhere at the mall) for stress relief. I called it “retail therapy”. I have a closetful of clothes, some of which I actually like, that represent all those times. These past two weeks I observe that on the days I wear what I feel good in right now – which is gaucho pants, a funky belt, and a cool long sleeved fitted T shirt that cost five times what my pants did – I teach better. I feel at home, and joyful.

Now I don’t attribute all of it to the clothes. But the clothes are a symbol of something. Of my courage to be comfortable, and believe that I will still be accepted. Of my conviction that I have something internal to offer that has nothing to do with my shoes, my suits, or anything I put on my body. That when I light up from the inside, it shines through anything on the surface.

So when I stopped by the Bloomingdales store this morning to pick up the promotional postcards they had printed for our upcoming holiday concert, I wasn’t prepared for the barrage of “marketing” stuff thrown at me by the Marketing Manager of the store. That’s her job. Her gift. Her thing to share. So I should expect her to be “all over it” and super gung ho about “potential partnerships” and the exciting launch of a new magazine for the Silicon Valley elite called, “Scene.” I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth just thinking about it.

Her glow and her excitement about “how cute” my students are and how it’s such a highlight of the year and how all the departments within the store are clamoring over who gets to have us perform in their space – well, all of it just made me wonder. Who was I that created all this hype? Was it really me? Or was I always just trying to put on a good show, have it sound good, look good, and know that it would bring people a lot of pleasure? I don’t think I was ever trying to impress people. I just knew what I thought was good, and went for it. I trusted myself, without knowing I was trusting myself.

And then I got snagged and tangled up in all the muck of “promotion” and “partnerships”. It’s not even the “business” side, which is just code for “being nice to people you secretly have no respect for and may even despise”. It’s the focus on all the stuff that has no meaning. I mean, she – the Marketing Manager – wanted to know what kind of flowers I would like on the table that will hold the concert programs. She wanted to know whether it would be OK if the refreshments she ordered were placed on a table versus passed around, since self-service refreshments often get messy. She must have sensed my total sense of disconnection and apathy toward what she was talking about, because she said, “We want to make this NICE. I mean, we want people to come back next year, right??” I thought, “Sure, the right flowers and refreshments will DEFINITELY bring people back for a violin concert next year.” Another brief episode of throwing up in my mouth just then.

I guess everyone wants to feel like they’re doing their part. I recognize that. I hugged her just as genuinely after our meeting as she hugged me, because I did get in touch with my feeling of gratitude that there really are people like her in the world who enjoy doing what she does and actually feel it is their meaningful contribution in their lives. Thank GOD for that.

As we parted ways in the parking lot – she having placed a box of approximately 400 postcards in the back seat of my SUV – I said, “Happy Thanksgiving!” She said, “Are you cooking?” I said, “Oh, no. Are you?” She said, “GOD no! We are not cooking girls, are we??” I just smiled back at her and laughed, like one of the “girls” she apparently saw me as.

She is Asian, by the way. Around late 40s to 50ish. Has been in mall marketing for her entire career. Can tell she loves the corporate life and the power to spend money. She was just throwing out all these ideas for the event, and I realized her job was just to spend money and create potential opportunities to attract people to the store. Whether or not they actually buy something is not her concern, and I wonder if her job performance is tied to that. Or just event attendance. Getting feet from the street and eyeballs in the store. There’s something to learn there, but in the case of Bloomingdales it vaguely gives me that throwing-up-in-my-mouth feeling.

What can I learn from her about marketing? Just make it NICE and people will want to come back. Partner with people, especially if they have money, or access to people with money, or better yet, access to people with money who need a place (beyond retail therapy) to put it. Even if these people have plastic faces or look drugged up, like a lot of the fundraising party attendees featured in Town and Country magazine. Make it feel NICE for them, and they will want to come back. I don’t focus enough on making it nice for other people, partly because only recently have I really begun to know what really makes ME feel nice. What if I could take a kernel from the lessons of today at Bloomingdales? What if I can really make something NICE for me? And then, what if I found those people – My People – who also thought that felt NICE? And then maybe THEY would want to come back. That’s the taste of freedom I want – the kind without having to throw up in your mouth a little every time.

Advertisements