Financial Empty Calories

I’ve started to teach ESL again and I love it. At first I fell into the trap of comparing my new paycheck to my old paycheck. That is the worst thing I can do. There’s no point in comparing salaries between two completely unrelated jobs. You need to compare happiness, and satisfaction. At my old job, my only sense of satisfaction came from making money. When that’s the case, you need to keep making more and more money in order to feel satisfied. It’s like eating empty calories – there’s no substance.

Here’s a much better way of looking at it my new part time job: I’m getting paid to have fun. I really enjoy talking to my students, hearing about their cultures, and coming up with new ways of making the past perfect verb tense fun. Besides for the grammar, it’s a lot like hanging out at the hostel  when you’re backpacking and meeting people from all over the world.

If someone paid me to watch movies I love, I wouldn’t scoff at the paycheck, or compare it to how much I would get paid to do something I don’t like, I would say , “how did I get so lucky?

Am I trying to tell you money is bad? Hell no. I want to be able to travel all the time, and eat out at fancy restaurants, take taxis when my feet are hurting, and wear pretty clothes, and not have to worry about bills. I’m still working on my BeddyBye invention, and I hope it will make me a millionaire one day. The difference is that the money won’t be the only source of satisfaction – it will be a reward for my hard work, dedication, and risk-taking. But just knowing my product made one person’s life easier would be worth it too.

p.s. My main priory right now is finding a mentor to talk to. If anyone knows someone in the manufacturing world who would like to be a mentor, I’d love the connection!

My Most Embarrassing Story

(This was originally posted in December of 2007. I am consolidating my two blogs.)

This is quite embarrassing, and if you’re easily grossed out skip this post. The malaria pills I was prescribed for my time in Mozambique causes yeast infections in 2% of the women who take it. I found out I am one of the unlucky 2%. Of course the damn yeast infection struck during my investigation period, when I was with 18 of my male students in an isolated region of Mozambique. There was no way I was going to tell them about my feminine problem.

The cockroaches in our shower. Would you feel clean?

I’ve never had a yeast infection before or after, but I’m going to guess that walking an average of 10 miles a day in 100 degree weather made it much more painful than usual. I came back to our abandoned schoolhouse almost in tears every night. I tried to get treatment at the hospital, but they had no idea what I was talking about. I even went to the local witchdoctor, but she didn’t understand either. Since the word for yeast and bread are the same in Portuguese, they thought I was saying that I had a bread infection.

I had treatment for yeast infections in the emergency kit back at my house in Inhambane, but I had to wait two days to get permission from the school director to go back by myself to get the medicine. Those were the most miserable days of my life. And the worst part was that no one believed that I was sick because I couldn’t tell them what was really wrong.

On Sunday morning my students walked me to the chappa stand (chappas are the main form of transportation in Mozambique. They are used minivans that fit up to 30 people). There were no direct chappas to Inhambane so I had to make four connections. My students talked to the first driver and told him to take care of me. Whenever the chappa arrived in the connecting town the driver would walk me to the next chappa and would speak in Portuguese, thinking that I didn’t understand. They would say, “this is our sister and she’s sick. Make sure she gets to Inhambane safely.” I never felt so well taken care of.

The trip should have only taken 4 hours but it ended up taking 7. On one of the longest rides, I was sharing the front seat with two ancient women who were sitting so closed to me that I could feel the peach fuzz on their cheeks. One asked me to hold two of her tied up live chickens on my lapSeriously? The chappa was from the former Soviet Union, and I’m pretty sure it was old enough to have driven Stalin around town. It stalled every time we got below twenty Kilometers an hour, and considering we stopped every ten minutes to pick up people, we had to get strangers to push the chappa and get it started again.

Celine Dion performing "Taking Chances&qu...

Image via Wikipedia

On this particular ride I went a little insane. I looked out the windows at the passing red roads, and the women carrying buckets of water on their heads. Celine Dion was crooning on the radio. Sweat was running down my face. The foul stench of twenty crushed people in the back seat was heavy in the air. The chickens were clucking in my lap, my lap that was burning more than my sun burnt face. I started crying, and I mean really crying. “Why am I here? This would never have happened if I stayed in America,” I cried. But then out of nowhere I just started cracking up. I started thinking about how I will tell my grandchildren about the time I got a yeast infection in Africa and I had to drive for 7 hours with chickens to get the medication. And then I couldn’t stop laughing. This time a huge smile broke across my face, and I thought, “yeah, this never would have happened if I stayed in America!” The two old ladies took note of my insanity and inched away from me which made the rest of the ride much more comfortable.

When I got to my house all of the kids in my village came running up to me to welcome me back. I don’t understand how they knew that I was coming back and that I was sick considering they don’t have phones, internet, or mail. They carried my bag in the house and even got water from the well for my shower. I took the medicine, took a shower, and then I slept like I never slept before.

Teaching in a one room school house.

The next morning I caught the chappa to Zavala and headed back to my students in a much better mood. My crotch was no longer on fire. When I got back to the school my students looked shocked. They thought I was lying about being sick, and that I was sneaking back to America without telling them. As soon as I walked in they all ran up to hug me and cried, “Mommy Tracy, you came back!” From that point on I won them all over. They still call me Mommy Tracy, which is funny because most of them are older than me. This is the first time I’ve been called “mommy” by twenty year olds without it being a come on.

The moral of the story is always carry Monistat with you when you travel. Or at least learn how to say “yeast infection” in the local language.

This is One Curator to Keep an Eye On

Molly Morgan Weiss was one of those special people who stood out in college, and that’s quite a feat in art school. I first saw her hanging outside my dorm in pink, furry, knee-high boots [although, she claims they were black]! We first bonded while painting a mural on the front of the Museum of Archaeology in Nicaragua. We’ve had many crazy adventures together, including almost getting arrested by undercover cops in Poland!

I’ve always been a big fan of her paintings. In fact I own two! I’ve also been to almost all of the shows she curated. From Fantastical Interactical  in the Hamptons, to Burlesque Poetry in Brooklyn, to her most recent show at Gallery 151 in Chelsea, her shows are always  fun, hip, and artsy. She showcases artists with a new perspective and a hint of whimsy (my favorite part). Just recently she secured the position of curator at Gallery 151, a competitive and prestigious position in the art world. Molly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions. Her path from sleeping in her car to becoming an art curator will  inspire you!

Can you tell us about some of your jobs since graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)?

The more bad jobs you have the more you realize what you don’t want to do. I was always fortunate enough to know it was art for me. I knew I needed to make it happen.  So, even when my job was (this is embarrassing and awful) billing cancer patients, I would go right home after work and immediately work on my next show, or a large painting or something that fed that art space in me. That job drove a fire in me to find friends who were exhibiting and just wanting to make art wherever whenever. We all worked really hard at it too.  

From writing the press releases to organizing the installations, we all formed a team. We were very close and created a bit of a movement out in our sleepy town (Sag Harbor, NY).  I had the honor to work for the Parrish Art Museum,where I met life long friends as well as continued to exhibit throughout the East End.

The [economic downturn] definitely hurt the art world.  I often feel like I’m on the front lines,  because at any given moment the arts funding can be cut. But that won’t stop me, at least not anytime soon. I was unemployed for a while, but my hard work in the art world eventually brought me to NYC.  I worked at Staples to pay for my art supplies – the coworkers were great, clients were awful.  For the last three years, I’ve been working at Gateway Schools on the Upper West Side.  Its a beautiful school with a great reputation and has allowed me to explore projects with children that I love. 

When did you know you wanted to become a curator?

This sounds cliche, but I think it just happened. People started calling me a curator, and then as I worked on my shows, I realized  that it made absolute sense. I had to work a lot for free, but I loved it so much I didn’t even mind.  

Can you describe the month leading up to landing a position as a curator?

I was accepted into Robert Wilson‘s Watermill Center for visual art and curating.  They were going to put me up for the summer for 6 weeks, all expenses paid, and introduce me to some of the best, talented, hard working artists in the industry today. I was so excited…It was everything I had ever worked for.  I thought I was about to embark on the best dream art summer ever.  

After a couple of nights there I was promptly kicked out because “the icon,” Mr. Wilson, decided he didn’t like me.  He never gave me a reason, I had to find out some things through a grape vine, that I didn’t fit in, he didn’t appreciate my sense of humor, I was “too casual”. I still don’t know if any of that is true but I have to swallow it and deal. The same night I was kicked out, the man I loved for the past three years told me he was leaving me for one of me “good friends”.  Talk about being hit while your already down. I had no apartment, and wound up living out of my car.  It was a rug swiftly pulled from under my feet.  I was devastated.

Then there was a Patti Smith concert, and god damn does Patti Smith feel good in times like these.  That’s where I saw Mike Namer (owner and founder of Gallery 151) and his son Matt, whom I’ve known for years.  They have always been friendly, warm, loving,  interesting people.  He’s the kind of man that is really working hard to give back to his community. With Patti Smith’s words pumping me up, I told Mike about the recent bad events. By the next day he had me over for coffee with him and his wife, and a month later was seriously talking about this job that opened up running his gallery in Chelsea.  Here I am today.  

I’m still in touch with a lot of artists from Watermill Center, and I bought a camera right before summer and religiously documented the whole experience which I plan to exhibit.  And yes, the “ex” boy admits now that he made a mistake. 

The month before this job was crazy, and had I not run into Michael Namer I don’t know what would have happened.  It proves that you need to have a little faith in the uncertainty every once in awhile. I’m usually so organized at plotting my career, so this was a real shake up and a strange time.

Your story is a perfect example of the saying, Luck is what happens when hard work meets opportunity. What advice can you give a young, creative person who’s just graduating from college?

The other day I told one of my interns, just keep going after college, no matter what, just keep at it. I feel strongly if you have a vision, and want to keep making art you must keep going and find other people that are also keeping at it.  When you get a good group of people all doing it the force is unstoppable and the work you want will find you.  You will be broke, but always keep that vision right there, and if you can, and are lucky enough to have supportive people around you, be good to them.  Be humble and eventually you’ll know why you’re doing it. 

What are some of your visions for the future of the gallery? 

I come from a real community orientated background, and luckily for me that is a huge part of the owners vision as well.  As I did out on Long Island, I’d like to collaborate with other artists, setting up exciting events that mix visual art, poetry slams,  crafts,and performance. One of my missions is to make art approachable and interactive.  In the world today, the arts are suffering badly, and its very hard to find serious investors for young emerging artists.  I like to get creative with this obstacle. We have to give them a reason why everyone, from a  young professional to an old wealthy banker, should support the arts. Art is a documentation of our society, so it’s important.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming show? 

 This next exhibition is a very important one for Mike Namer.  It’s a retrospective for the artist ERO aka. Ever Rocking On (Dominique Philbert) who just recently passed away this summer at a far too young age, 44.  This is the first show of his work since his death, he had a friendship with Mike, and I’ve learnt a lot about the artist while hanging the show and talking to the family.  He was a true artist.  He was misunderstood by society, but was extraordinarily talented.  

He was good friends with Basquiat, and for art history nerds like us, it’s a dream to actually be hanging work from the the early 80’s graffiti art movement.  They played an extremely influential role in the NYC art scene and paved way for a lot of artists to follow. They were a couple of pioneering badasses, and I can only hope to do the same.  The opening is going to be great, and the work is incredible, speaks for itself, we are all really looking forward to it.

ERO: RIP “Ever Rocking On” is open from January 12th to February 1st. Gallery 151 is located at 132 West 18th st (near the corner of 6th Ave). I’ll be there for the opening on Thursday, January 19th, for the opening (6pm-9pm)! Come join us!!!

What Do Gratitude, Kickstarter, and ESL Have in Common?

First off, I want to thank everyone for the supportive comments, emails, texts and calls. I was really starting to doubt if I could make my dream business a reality, and your encouragement really helped me to stay motivated. Since I know how amazing it felt to get words of encouragement from complete strangers, I went ahead and sent a stranger words of encouragement. Someone who I funded on Kickstarter has been having a hard time with her project so I sent her an email telling her not to give up. She said it made her night! It doesn’t take much time to lift someone up and it makes such a big difference.

That said three unrelated people have told me I should use kickstarter to fund my project. If you’re unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it’s a website where you can find out about new, interesting projects and help fund them. You get great prizes for every level of funding. For instance I helped pay for an urban garden in Queens. For $100 I get to take a tour of the garden, a lesson in apartment gardening, and know that I personally helped make Queens more environmentally friendly! When my friend’s movie got into the Berlin film festival Kickstarter helped her raise the $15,000 she needed for plane tickets, promotional material, and last minute editing improvements. I’ve helped fund the publishing of a graphic novel, and someone’s knitting enterprise. It feels awesome to be able to help people achieve their dreams and also feel like a part of these exciting, diverse endeavors. So I definitely need to keep this in mind once I have an exact amount I need to raise.

And my last bit of news is that I got a part time job teaching ESL! I used to be an ESL teacher before my last job, and I always loved it. You get to learn about so many cultures without even leaving your city. I figured taking on a part time job would help me feel more financially stable, so I won’t be as scared of taking big risks with BeddyBye. Also, just getting out of the apartment and being productive makes me feel more motived and competent!

Discouraging News

So I talked to a manufacturing consultant who specializes in baby products and he told me it would be crazy to move forward unless I have $100,000 to spare. I feel pretty sh*tty. If I manufacture in America the prices are two to three times higher than manufacturing abroad. If I manufacture abroad it only makes sense to order in bulk (minimum of 5,000) and at that quantity the cost of cargo shipping is insane. It seems like there’s no way to just try it out and see if it works. It’s either all or nothing.

I asked him how normal people get into manufacturing. For instance, in the last week when reading about how successful entreprenuers started their business I’ve come across these two lines:

“I didn’t intend to make a big business it just sorta happened.” (insert cute shrug)

“My husband said stop talking about it and just make it.”

The consultant said, when someone says “it just sorta happened,” that translates to they inherited a ton of money and they got lucky. And that “husband,” was probably the owner of a Fortune 500 company.

At this point I would like to offer a positive spin, but I’m not really feeling positive. I just don’t see how to move forward. This has been keeping me up for the last week. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep until 5am.


Why Challenges are Necessary

A wise, old man stood with a bird perched on his arm. When the bird was about to take off, the man pulled his arm away, and the bird fell to the ground. Why? Because the bird needed the resistance of the arm to push off.

This is how I’m choosing to looking at the recent financial challenges of starting my own business. I need resistance before I can take flight. Knowing that I can’t afford to produce the BeddyBye product the way I originally designed it is making me rethink the design. I believe that I will come up with a smarter, sleeker, more profitable design because of this set back. I’ve already gone back to the drawing board – my kitchen table.

Sometimes it’s good not to have all the money you need. I remember when my mom first started to produce shows she happened upon a musical that was in the workshop phase. She loved it instantly (even though there were major flaws in the story), and if she had millions of dollars to spare she would have produced it immediately. Instead, she needed to work with the writers to improve the story line in order to get more investors interested.

Ultimately the project dissolved because of creative differences, but the script ended up much improved, and during the process my mom  was exposed to another show that she is now producing (which is going to be super successful, just you wait!!!), and she met lots of people who will help her succeed as a producer. If she had the money right away she would have produced a show that probably would have flopped, and she would have wasted millions of dollars. Not having the money forced her to learn and grow, and now she’s ready to take flight.

If it sounds like I’m pushing this “challenges are great” shtick it’s because I am. Right now I’m in a phase where it would be very easy to drop the whole project. That is why I need to convince myself that this is all for the best. My hope is that this can motivate you when you reach a difficult phase in accomplishing your dream.

A Failing Course of Action?

While I was getting swept up in the excitement of my LLC approval, and having a successful focus group, I forgot about the lingering manufacturing costs.

My current design for the BeddyBye has a plastic infrastructure, a urethane foam covering, as well as a custom fitted sheet. The plastic and foam both need to be made with a mold. Molds are great if you have tens of thousands of dollars lying around and you know that you’ll be selling huge quantities, but the upfront costs make it almost prohibitive for anyone who’s starting out.

So far the cheapest quote for making the mold for the plastic component (JUST the mold – not even the finished product) was around $8,000. Yesterday I got the upsetting news that the molds for the foam (who knew foam needed a mold?) would be $3,000. The kicker is that on top of the mold cost, the cost per unit (if I’m ordering 100 at a time) is $45 each! And that’s just for the foam. There’s no telling how much the plastic units and the fitted sheets will cost. The upfront manufacturing costs will most likely be around $14,000. Even if I forget about the upfront costs, it will  cost about $120 for each baby bed to be made once I have the molds. A hefty number especially when market research indicates that I need to keep the price under $100. With these numbers it’s impossible to ever turn a profit.

This is when I think: Why couldn’t I come up with an easier product? or better yet, Why couldn’t I just be happy with a regular job?

So far I’ve invested $3,500 in this project. That’s nothing compared to my emotional and time investment. At this point I fear “escalation of commitment to a failing course of action.” In other words, am I holding on to an impossible dream just because I made an initial investment? Should I get out before I risk even more?

NOOOOO! That’s the whole point of this blog. I wanted to make the struggle public to hold myself accountable. Otherwise, I would have given up the second I first thought of BeddyBye. When I started the HeSo project I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I was leaving a secure, easy job for the horrifying thrill of following my intuition, believing in myself, and taking risks. Just as a difficult workout makes the heart grow stronger, I believe making difficult decisions will make my HeSo stronger!

Stay tuned for some of the solutions I have brewing!

Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.

Denis Waitley

Insane Courage

Pretty Matt Damon

I must be getting older because I no longer think anything is cheesy. What once would have made me roll my eyes now makes me teary eyed. Case in point, a commercial for We Bought a Zoo. I heard Matt Damon telling his son, “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.” I wanted to sigh but I couldn’t. Because it’s true.

OK, so I’m not buying a zoo, but I am starting a business. Every stage takes a long time and it’s filled with lots of financial woes, self-doubt, and scrutiny. But there comes a time when I need to make a decision and that’s what takes me to the next stage. Those few seconds of decision making are the scariest and they do take insane courage. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend researching and contemplating the issue if you never make a decision.

I was met with the fear of decision making when buying the domain name for my baby bed business. When I tried to buy the domain name the guy who owned it wanted $1,800. I tried to talk him down to $500, and that’s when he upped his price to $2,500. I spent several weeks thinking up a better name, and spending about $200 on substitute domain names, but I didn’t like any of them as much as the original name. Out of the blue, the owner of beddybye contacted me and said he would sell it to me for $500! The rest should have been easy. I spent all that time trying to get the name for $500, so you think I would have paid for it immediately. But I sat at my kitchen table with my hand quivering over the keyboard for about 20 minutes before clicking  the “send payment” button on Paypal. Pressing the button meant that it’s real. I’m now $500 more into it and there’s no going back.

The hardest part of life is making a decision. Everything else is just a logical response to the decision. As Rita Mae Brown said, “A Peacefulness follows any decision, even the wrong one.” Once you make a decision you can be done with the fear and doubt that preempted it. So have a little “insane courage” and make a decision. No matter what you decide it’s better than staying paralyzed in indecision.

Life is the sum of all your choices.  ~Albert Camus

Life advice from Jillian Michaels

I’m a big fan of Jillian Michaels’ 30 day shred. Not only is it a great workout, but her tough love style can be applied to all walks of life. After a few reps she always says, “Don’t quit! When it gets tough that’s when the real change starts.” So simple but so true. I find myself saying that over and over again when starting my small business.

Yesterday I bought the domain name, set up the web hosting, had a 2 hour meeting with my accountant, and got the paperwork ready for filing the LLC. I had a big fat headache and felt way overwhelmed. But Jillian’s voice repeated in my head: When it gets tough that’s when the real change starts.

All of life’s big challenges are like strength training. You start with a weight you can manage  and you keep going until it hurts like hell. If you work through the struggle, the next time you go to lift weights you can manage much more. If you never work until it hurts you’ll never get stronger. And you can’t skip any steps. You can’t just start off lifting the largest weights in the gym. You’ll end up pulling a muscle and never going back. You have go through all the stages, and all the aches and pains that go with it. Eventually you will lift 200 pounds and by that point you’ll be ready.

If you didn’t like my extended metaphor here’s something that should make you laugh. I don’t have 2 pound weights in my apartment so what do think a logical substitution would be? That’s right, I did my chest presses with two wine bottles.