Ill Communication

I like to talk. A lot. So does Simon, but when he talks it’s usually about something that’s half-way interesting, like a new iPhone app that tells you where the nearest kittens are. I just fill the air with words. So the two of us in a business together is like an air canon of conversation: WORDS. In person this can be charming, as we’re both small and talk with our hands. But on a conference call it’s like trying to choreograph hummingbirds.

We haven’t had a whole lot of business calls until recently, we usually have been a strictly email business. We’d average maybe only one or two calls a month, while now it’s three or four a week. We both agree that it’s on the phone that we’re at our worst, which makes this a scary situation. I have to add that I’m terrified of the telephone. I hate it. I’d much prefer if we used the smoke signals that Homer talked about in The Iliad, or carrier pigeons, hell, even Morse code. People may have once seen it as a magical, transformational instrument of the future, but I just see it as a tool for anxiety and other assorted discomfort. If I’d been on the receiving end of Alexander Graham Bell’s utterance of "Come here. I want to see you." I would have run the other way.

phone

Business phone calls are only bearable for a handful of reasons, one of which is that I’m not the only one on this side of the line. Also, after three years, I can venture a pretty good guess about what Simon is thinking most of the time. While on calls we can use hand signals and notes like two kids cheating on a chemistry test in order to make sure we don’t step on each other’s toes and still articulate ourselves clearly. (We do have a bad habit of finishing each other’s sentences that is both embarrassing and as professional as Lindsay Lohan.) But because most of the time we hang up feeling like we just woke up from a regrettable one night stand, I thought I’d post a list of tips for how to have a business phone call that’s more effective than ours and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve been wearing steel-wool underpants.

Know the number you’re calling. Seems simple, doesn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been involved in a multi-player game of phone tag that featured people who were paying our rent.

Close the windows and tranq the dog. Background noise is a big issue in the Big Apple. Making sure that sirens, drunk people, and that dude who likes to scream Bon Jovi are kept outside and under 31 decibels is a key component to a successful business phone call. We don’t actually drug Snack. She’s too aloof to bark.

Make sure your phone is charged. Important. And self-explanatory.

Know the names of the people on the call. Chances are I will be called Ashley, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else on the call should have to go through the mortification of correcting the other parties involved. Although it’s often hard to tell whose speaking if there’s more than one person on the line, it’s useful to know their names and positions in relation to the project.

Be prepared for AT&T to drop the call if you’re on your cell. This only really applies to callers in New York. Of course, ideally you’re not calling from your cell. Predictably, we only use our cell phones.

Outline first. A business call is more like interpretive dance than a night at the disco. While it’s important for things to remain fluid on the party line, it’s vital that you know what questions, comments, and concerns you have before you get on the call. This also saves you the added humiliation that comes from having to send a post-call email asking that question that you forgot, or worse, having to call back.

Do not make out with your co-worker.

Take notes. I’ve done the technique of recording, I’ve even transcribed calls, but, for me, the most effective method of documenting a call is putting a pen to paper. I also recommend that more than one person does this. If Simon and I both notate, we lower our percentage of shit missed by approximately one-third to half. It also provides the opportunity for dueling doodles at the top of our pages.

Have an exit on hand. We’re long-winded people-pleasers. If the person or people on the other end of the line are of the same ilk, a phone call can devour the better half of an afternoon. Of course we don’t mind charging by the hour, but it just doesn’t seem right to smack someone with a bill for several hundred dollars for discussing their Malaysian cooking class or their wife’s due date. (Hey, we’re not therapists.) Practice the art of politely getting out of a conversation a few times, possibly with your relatives, telemarketers, or your ex-girlfriend. Remember that you’re busy, and time spent at the keyboard is money better earned than time spent discussing last night’s episode of House with the guy whose site you’re wording.

Know when to shut up. As with marital disputes, keeping your mouth shut is possibly the single most important thing you can do on a phone call. Don’t interrupt like we do. Wait to make your points. Write them down as they come up if you need to. Just hush. And breathe. After all, it’s only a phone call.

Uncomfortably Numb

I was going to write this post about nutritionists. There seemed to be reason enough, I need to see a nutritionist and I’m naturally skeptical of any profession where the majority of practitioners’ websites feature dubious strings of letters behind their names in Papyrus font. I even learned something: Dieticians require a certain amount of training, study, and accreditation, while anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. So, technically, I’m in the market for a dietician. But that’s not what this blog post is about.

Recently I’ve been so uninspired I’ve thought of shutting down Jerk Ethic, scrapping the bullshit Twitter, deleting Like It (which is in such a state of neglect that I think my computer would actually scream out a "Hallelujah!" if I did so,) and resigning myself to a life of quietude, loneliness, and social networking abstinence. Where I used to approach updating Jerk Ethic with a brain-itching giddiness, I now look at it like a dentist’s appointment. A dentist located in Cleveland,  in an office that only plays a bluegrass Creed tribute album on the speakers, and who has professional arm-wrestlers as assistants. In lieu of Friday night drinking binges, it has become my new way to ruin my Saturday morning.

Why is this? According to some sites, blog writers inevitably run out of steam. Symptoms? Less frequent posts and posting about the blog itself. (Guilty as charged.) I rail against this on two fronts: one, I actually got half-way through a post about a different topic and, two, this post will tie into what started me writing it in the first place. Namely the reason why I’m uninspired. I think it might have to do with work. I’m not going to stop the navel-gazing exercise that is blogging. Even if I have to look at it as a weekly appointment for a word processing root canal, I’ll do it. The trick seems to be finding something to write about that’s inspiring – which is a sentence that makes me want to tattoo "GRANOLA" on my forehead. In papyrus font.

After a few years of working together, Simon and I have developed a rhythm. We work nearly six days a week, and we’re still hunting for more clients. Currently we’re busy, really busy. It’s fantastic. When we look back on those months where we almost got evicted, or split a can of beans for a meal, it’s humbling and kinda odd to see that we’re still financially struggling, but we’re also up to our eyeballs in work. A lot of these projects are labor intensive, they require frequent phone calls, emails, redrafts. They’re a big deal, both to those clients who have hired us, and to ourselves. We take pride in our work. We stress about it. Often we can be seen out on a Friday night, engaging in what looks like it can only be the Worst Date Ever: both of us either on our mobile devices or scribbling in our notepads, completely ignoring the other person and our beverages. We talk about work so much that it’s become a new rule that after five, we don’t. I love being busy, but at the end of the day, I feel like my brain is made of spiders. I want to stare at something pretty and eventually fall asleep.

 

Simon is slightly different. He paces his workday with frequent breaks to gorge on images, his meditation object of choice. He’ll pore over countless jpegs and URLS, assaulting his eyes until he goes back to the blinking cursor. This works for him in two ways, he’s able to let his gray matter take a cigarette break and he’s also finding fodder for Stare Hard, his uber-awesome image blog. I’m not so lucky. Born from a workaholic and an obsessive compulsive, I have trouble with the notion of "breaks." Though medical science proves that breaks are good for the neurological components of memory blah blah blah big words doctor stuff, I don’t care. You know what’s good for the brain? Working and making money. Fun, and the rabbit hole of the Innerwebs, can wait.

So when it comes time to leave my workday of writing for my hobby of writing, it’s safe to say that after two years my right cerebral cortex is no longer fooled. I’m uninspired, writing for fun feels like a chore. An unpaid, thankless gig. Actual work, with its promise of a paycheck and occasional creative "Eureka!" moments, is sometimes much more fun. It’s also as ego gratifying as a one-night-stand where she actually calls you when a client is truly grateful and wowed by what you’ve done. Write a blog and you might get a comment. Chances are it’s from somebody you slept with. Or a spammer. (Thanks, guys.)

A little over a week ago I saw Henry Rollins at a place here in New York that’s now called The Fillmore, but used to be called Irving Plaza. Back when I was a scrappy little alterna-teen I saw Live play there and my friend Danny got kicked in the face while moshing. His mom was pissed and we were both grounded. I also saw Rollins Band perform around that time, I guess it was ’94 or ’95. The show was at Roseland Ballroom, and security put me under the police line because I was so small they thought I would get crushed (total bummer, until I realized that they were probably right and I was now one inch away from being backstage.) Rollins’ show that night changed my life, and although one could argue that I was fourteen and my life changed every time I put on the radio, I still remember it in a way that impacts the way I write. There was something about seeing a man so focused on what he was doing, his intensity was nothing short of petrifying. I remember he was whipping the mic cord around as he performed and the lashes he inflicted on himself caused huge red welts to form. I was thinking to myself, "Jesus Christ, this guy is going to kill someone. He is going to jump off stage and kill someone because that’s what his art makes him do." I read nearly all of his books, starting with Get in the Van and reading each release from 2.13.61 that came after. I wanted to find a way to hone in on writing the way that Henry Rollins did on performing. I compared my preteen years to his work with Black Flag, but that once I got to college I’d be the finely-tuned machine that he’d become in his solo career. I’d search and destroy with my words.

Of course we all know how the story goes, I got to college and drank and fucked and graduated, got a decent nine-to-five job, and wrote on the side. My dreams of being the most hardcore writer who ever lived fell behind priorities like paying rent and finding a nice girl to call a wife. Eventually, after drinking myself to ineptitude, I lost both. I started doing slam poetry, the single most narcissistic exercise in writing, other than blogging. (To keep the Rollins comparison going, if pure art is like a Rollins show, slam poetry is like a Blink 182 poster being sold at Hot Topic.) After going sober and hooking up with Simon, I got my shit together again. My priorities reorganized, writing became key. Although I didn’t strip my life down to only the most basic necessities like Mr. Rollins supposedly does, I keep my life simple. I don’t drink, I eat clean, I try to get eight hours of sleep a night, and I exercise. I keep my body in the best, most healthy shape in order to keep my mind as uncluttered as possible. I always try to keep moving forward when it comes to work and creativity, I think that’s what led me to write this post, I feel stagnant, and I’m not going to lie about it. I believe that my total indifference to the topics I’m approaching shines through. I’m like a bad stripper, she’s doing all the motions with dead eyes.

The Rollins show I saw most recently was his Frequent Flyer Tour, a spoken word gig where he takes on topics ranging from visiting Sri Lanka to Sarah Palin’s stand-up comedy to Bad Brains. I’m not sure if all the shows are similar, I suppose they must have some common structure, but the two hours came across more like a conversation with a friend who stopped into town for a night and wanted to catch up over coffee. Although we’re nearly fifteen years removed from that night where I saw the man clad in nothing more than black gym shorts, barefoot, screaming until the muscles in his neck were like ropes, he still held the same intensity. I was still captivated, as were much of the crowd. I wondered if Henry Rollins had found the secret. Of course, he could have tried to continue performing musically. It would have been fine, he would have sold possibly just as many tickets. But I remember when I saw Depeche Mode in 2000 or 2001, in a huge arena. It was the most soul-crushing moment for my youth. The guys were old. They moved with less pep, more caution. Dave Gahan was still able to belt ‘em out, but his voice was creakier. The age I had tried to deny when I looked in the mirror every morning was being confirmed by my idols on stage. Henry Rollins thankfully seemed to realize that hopping around onstage in gym attire at fifty might be fun, but in order to keep both his creativity and relevance in top form, it’s better to adapt. Hence the spoken word tour. And my awareness that in order to keep myself from going stale, I have to figure out a new approach. I’m just not sure what it is yet.

Early on in this blog, I wrote to a bunch of people I respected, asking them how they stayed engaged in writing from personal experience. I was looking for clues how to prevent exactly what I’m feeling now. The majority of the more famous individuals I tried to contact didn’t write back, understandably. But I unexpectedly received a response from Henry Rollins. He wrote, "I keep changing the environment so the writing stays alive. That’s the attempt anyway." It’s time for me to step outside my comfort zone and listen.

There’s No Place Like Om

[Note that’s completely unrelated to blogging,  yoga, writing, or freelancing: Last night I saw Henry Rollins’ “Frequent Flyer Tour” at the Fillmore. If he’s speaking anywhere near you, see him. Buy tickets. You won’t be disappointed.]

The more I do yoga, the more I realize that I’m the worst kind of student. Passionate, but opinionated. Selectively learned. Obstinate. Judgmental. Somewhat inflexible and occasionally flatulent.

I love yoga. There’s something about stretching that much that makes my body feel the way it’s supposed to. When I wake up in the morning, my joints remind me that I’m not eighteen. From marching up and down five flights of stairs with an overweight dog carried in a satchel, my lower back and thighs are often sore and tight. I’ve developed a nasty habit of clenching my jaw since I moved back to New York. I am nervous by nature, afraid of my shadow and bees, distrusting of humans and wound tighter than a spool of fishing twine. I needed to find something to stop me from developing a bleeding ulcer before the age of thirty. After months of Simon begging me to go to a yoga class, a year ago I did, though I grumbled and gritted my teeth all the way there. It didn’t help that the teacher played Jimmy Buffett at top volume, or that the room of that particular class on Long Island was filled with what appeared to be the female occupants of a convalescent home. I stopped growling ten minutes into the practice and started feeling better. My sarcastic comments when it was over didn’t erase the fact that my body wanted to do it again, and soon. So I found my Margaritaville-loathing self signing up for another class two days later. I’ve practiced regularly ever since.

The differences in my mood, personality, and body were duly noted by those closest to me after I started taking classes. Even though I rolled my eyes and hissed about it being a bougie activity for lonely housewives, I would come home calmer, less frantic, gloating because I was able to perch on my elbows or stand on my head. Of course, in the boudoir, it helped that I could suddenly rest my calves behind my ears or balance on my forearms. Or do both simultaneously. What didn’t help is that I suddenly knew all the lyrics to License to Chill.

The studio I began practicing at on Long Island was like a girl cult. It was awesome. The teachers were hilarious, attractive, and – apart from their taste in music  – exceptionally good. Although they talked a lot about chakra alignment and guided meditation, they also swore, cracked dirty jokes, and drove SUVs. I imagined that they were contradictions like myself, people who wanted to find inner peace and sexy biceps, but who weren’t altogether able to eschew the temptations of modern western living, like reality TV and burritos. I felt at home there, even if it took me a while to be able to touch my nose to my knee. Once I moved into the city and started attending classes at the nearby gym, I traded the quasi-temple ambiance of my old studio for a gymnasium-style room with plank wood floors and all-around mirrors. Gone were my beautiful, lavender-scented lady teachers, instead there were (still adorable) gay men in basketball shorts. I hoped that my quest for a new, New York City studio would lead me to a quiet sanctuary filled with flexible, buxom yoginis willing to bend me into a pretzel and turn me into one of them. I dreamed of supplementing my copywriting income with karma by becoming a yoga teacher. I was convinced that I’d find a new place to call om. (Ugh. The pun gods are going to smite me.)

At the gym, the room is usually filled with blond MILFs flapping their Botoxed jaws on their cellphones, or hippie-dippie NYU students in pajamas. With my tattoos and awkward haircut I look like I’m enrolled in some New Age "meditate away the gay" camp. Not to mention that years of doing athletics has left me automatically competitive. There’s nothing less relaxing then some five foot tall, scowling troll trying to reach her foot "better" than you, especially when you’ve opened class by chanting for peace to the universe and all things. But I have a reasonable gym membership, and it’s cheaper to go to the classes hosted in the club’s basement than to get a separate membership to a yoga studio. After two months of trying to suffer through classes where my awkward self faced off against me, duel-style, in the full-length mirror, I decided I should maybe try some local studios. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

My first exploration in a studio outside of my gym in Manhattan led me to a large yoga "institute" about a ten minute walk from my house. For $17 I would be walked through the basics of Hatha yoga, a style that’s slightly different from the Vinyasa and Ashtanga that I was used to. (For non-yoga people, Ashtanga is a more traditional series of poses that doesn’t vary, it’s disciplined, intense, and hurty. I love it. The other favorite of mine, Vinyasa, is "flow" yoga, the kind that’s wicked popular, though not as trendy as Bikram, aka "hot" yoga. I don’t to hot yoga. It would only have a purpose for me if I were training to be a ninja in a country without air conditioning, or looking to drop a weight class for the wrestling team.)

After paying my dues with a woman who seemed more pissed off than at peace, I took the stairs to the "Lavender Room," where my class was to be held. After taking an uncomfortable pee in a locker-room filled with women getting dressed to go to work, I entered the quiet, nearly empty room. There was a single candle and two pictures, one of a man in orange with a long, gray beard, and one of the Dali Lama. Soon the room filled up, and from the crowd I could tell this wouldn’t be a different style than I was used to. Everyone was over the age of fifty, and everyone was in sweatpants. My workout clothes, while not pricey, were more suited for a Nike ad, while everyone else seemed better dressed for a night at home in front of an Everybody Loves Raymond marathon.

The teacher was blond, older, and wore what looked like an all-white aesthetician’s uniform. She led us through very few poses that involved movement, instead opting to lead a never-ending group chant and walk us through meditations on the body, the self, and some other stuff that I fell asleep during. This was one very expensive nap. I left there edgy because I hadn’t been able to really stretch and sweat a little (to build up heat, or "tapas." No, not Spanish appetizers, the Sanskrit word for heat.) Basically this was yoga I would recommend for my legally blind, emphysemic grandmother. I know that’s not exactly the most zen thing to say, but for the amount of research I put into trying to find a new studio, and the amount of money it cost for me to enter that purple room, my chakras were knocked even further out of alignment.

I should let it be known, I really don’t like chanting. It feels like cultural appropriation, and I’ve never been good at call-and-response exercises, as was evidenced by my blessedly brief high-school cheerleading career.

handstand

Another studio that sounded good was Om, which is up by my alma mater on Broadway, near The Strand bookstore. On my way there I got a little turned-around, as there’s another yoga studio across the street and up a block. Eventually I made it into the right building, onto the correct elevator, where I felt really awkward standing with people who obviously were in the middle of their workday, coming in from a cigarette break. They got out two floors below my destination, and when the doors opened it was like I was transported to another world. The dimly lit, spacious lobby area totally radiated that crunchy granola, New Age goodness that I’d been looking for. I paid $28 for an introductory package of two classes, which, while way more money than I’d wanted to spend, seemed like an okay deal. There’s a reason why yoga in America has become more closely associated with wealthy suburban housewives than its traditional hippie roots.

The class was taught by a woman who commanded all thirty or so students with a passionate and intelligent series of insights that ranged from basic anatomy to humorous visualizations. Although it wasn’t as challenging as I’d hoped, that was my own fault for choosing a "basics 2" class as opposed to an "open" or "intermediate" session. I thought the space was beautiful, almost cavernous, and fellow students were friendly and non-intimidating. The music was also a marked improvement, I caught tracks by Beirut on the speakers at one point, which instantly improved my mood. There was even a smoking hot, tattooed student studying for her teacher training who sat in the back and quietly observed. It felt like a community, which was what I was missing. But for nearly $20 per session, along with either a $6 cab ride or a lengthy walk, Om might be more of an occasional luxury than a daily sanctuary. Which bums me out.

Of course, the fact that they have a teacher training program is a big draw. I had been signed up to attend one on Long Island, but my mother’s death and subsequent house sale left me short on time and even more short on focus. I’m not sure if becoming a teacher is something I should do, either. I’m slightly dyslexic when it comes to right and left, which would be a bit of a hindrance to my ability to get people to follow directions. I also hate chanting, like I said, and would have difficulty opening the class with an "om" or closing it with a "shanti." My musical taste is also a bit out of touch with most of my other teachers, except for one woman named Stephanie who played The Cure, Puscifer, and Sigur Rós, and who made every class feel like an exploration in awesome. Differences aside, teaching could be a way to make peace with my wallet…in theory.

On average, a yoga instructor makes about 35K a year, less than a well-educated public school teacher. Private lessons can be somewhat lucrative, with a cost of anywhere from $110-$250 per hour and a half, with all of that going straight into the teacher’s pocket. Of course, the area you live in, and how many studios/health clubs you get gigs at greatly impact your earnings. Specializations, like prenatal yoga or yoga for kids, can make you more of a hot commodity, but they also come with a price. Even preliminary teacher training certification courses run into the thousands. It’s a lot to spend only to be entering a field where a profit isn’t guaranteed. Moreover, though it should surprise no one, you don’t get health insurance as a yoga instructor. Not exactly a comforting fact, when you think of all the inversions and arm balances that can go wrong.

Ever since the economy tanked, it seems as though yoga classes are packed. People who are unemployed are flocking to the mats, hoping to find a little solace. As that teacher Stephanie once said to me, "The economy sucks, so business is booming. People feel shitty, they do yoga. Or they feel shitty and they drink." (She moonlighted as a bartender. That’s my kind of yogi.) Although yoga is reported to have done well during the recession, that doesn’t mean that teachers are necessarily meditating atop cushions made of cash. A New York Times article followed a Manhattan teacher as she tried to stay afloat. She had specializations up the wazoo, both prenatal and children’s yoga certifications, yet as of last year she was on food stamps and struggling to keep a roof over her head, and the head of her six year old son. Scary.

I admit to being a sardonic, cynical bitch. I admit to paradoxically viewing yoga as an upper-class white woman activity while also looking at it as a lifeline. I’m drawn to it, I adore it, and I wish I had the talent, cash, and time to get certified and share this gift that I love so much. I’m not sure if I expect my personality or outlook to change while practicing something that boasts bolstering inner-peace and acceptance, but I know that if it can work to make this batshit-crazy, neurotic twenty-something chill out even a little bit, it must be good for everyone.