So, here's a bit of old writing. I saw one of my mentors' triumphs last night. Totally honored to be in the room. Here's something I wrote about another mentor-- my first boss out of college.
January 29, 2005
The Last Days of Personal ShoppingI am sitting here on my last morning of being a personal shopper. And Dad had suggested that I write an article about it.
As a girl growing up without my mother, I was constantly looking for replacements. Surrogate mother figures popped in and out of my life in some transient form for years-- from stepmothers to community friends, to friends my own age who just seemed a bit maternal.
Sometimes, I sought positive qualities that my mother had-- her panache for cooking, or making a house look lived in; her boisterous, sometimes snorting laugh, her beauty, and at one time, her ambition. She had wanted to be a model (among other things).
I even looked to people with her same negative qualities-- substance abuse problems, dwelling obsession with the past, self-pity, guilt-tripping, and a cruel and biting tongue. (Sometimes, it seemed like my dad continued to seek out these qualities also). As if, even through her flaws, it helped me to feel closer to her.
But more often than that, I found myself looking for someone who went above and beyond my mother-- who was and who had made herself into the kind of person my mother really thought she wanted to be. Someone who had succeeded where my mother had failed.
My first boss out of college came to symbolize that woman.
The one who had carved herself out of the mold she was born into. Carved herelf into someone sleeker and more sophisticated. Someone who never gave up.
My job as assistant to Marsha Miller, personal shopper, literally landed on my doorstep. After the kind of tooth-and-nail, frustrating summer post-grads' nightmares are made of, I went to Saks Fifth Ave. on a friend's reccommendation about a Human Resources position that it turns out, didn't exist. Then they wanted me to work on the sales floor.
After working so hard my whole life to rise out of a middle middle class background, the idea of getting stuck in retail and never making my dreams come true scared me so badly that I couldn't even show up to my final interview.
I was scared so badly, it turned me into a flake for that day.
But not long after, I was surprised to get a phone call from them, and it seemed like almost overnight, I was thrown into the world of extreme VIP Las Vegas-- I was now hob nobbing with the very family that my own Junior High School had been named after-- and the world of one of the most intimidating women I have ever met.
From day one, Marsha seemed almost impossibly particular. Details, details, details. The highest standards. Although I was trying so hard to please her, one moment my efforts seemed to succeed; the next, they failed miserably.
And with my self-esteem in the toilet from a summer with over 150 job applications and one interview (at Saks), I took each criticism from her mouth to extreme heart.
Maybe it was because from the very beginning, I saw in her that ultimate success story in contrast to my mother. Even before I knew Marsha's life story, I knew that she had acheived all the things my mother could not.
She was chic, fashionable, funny, knowledgable, modern and extremely talented at the field she was passionate about-- which was not just fashion, but providing a top-notch experience for her clients.
Later, as Marsha softened to my endearing goofiness (at least that's how I imagine myself) and my initiative in thinking of ideas to make the office run more smoothly, I learned her story.
She had been born in Europe right after World War II to Holocaust survivors and immigrated to the United States as a small child. There, she became Marsha, from Mushka, and even as a small girl in New York City, and then Los Angeles, she began to formulate what she wanted to make of her life.
After graduating from U.C.L.A and several years of teaching, she deciding to break her way into fashion.
Her start at Neimann Marcus included few, but very influential clients. And for the next twenty years, she made herself into the name for personal shopping in Las Vegas.
She looked flawless everyday, and no matter how much I tried to study more and more information about different designers and vendors, she seemed omniscient about all matter pertaining to personal style.
All that is just the set up to our relationship. What developed particularly during the insanity of December, was a combustible relationship I both craved and feared.
With the stakes high, and fuses very short, Christmas has none of the glamour of fashion and all the drudgery of a factory. My job went from style consultant to box builder, schlepper, and go-to girl.
My mood seemed entirely dependent on Marsha's mood. When she was happy with my work, I was happy with my job-- all 13 hours a day of it. When she was angry with me, or disappointed in me, I could hardly get out of bed, or move onto my next task.
"Are you going to cry??" She asked me several times during those endless weeks. I never did, but I wanted to.
It was during that month that I realized, no matter what kind of departure I tried to take from my mother, I would always arrive back on her door step.
The one that proves I still need approval from her, or someone like her. That I fear to my mortal core the inherent tackiness I saw in mother, her low-classness that she could never seem to rise up out of, and shamed myself into one day being myself.
And that in running scared from one set of issues, I had run right into another. Tacky or classy, I had to come to terms with the stubborn, full-speed roller coaster of maternal approval.
I needed someone to participate in my life and to be proud of it. To say, 'Good Job.'
I know my mother couldn't tell me who my first love was, what music I like, what I want to do with my life, or even what my college major was-- but Marsha can.
I don't really know what it's like to pick out an outfit for a really important occasion with my mom. Or be in a splurgeful secret with mom. She would never think it was a good idea to buy a $250 Burberry coat (marked down from $2000!!!). In fact, she probably wouldn't even know what Burberry is.
That kind of talk may sound shallow, but it's not the specifics that make it special, it's the meaning. It's important for a girl to share those kinds of things with her mother.
But it's also about high standards. The standards I set for my life, the high standards necessary to be a success.The high standards my mother set, but abandoned.
From Marsha, from being in personal shopping, I learned the difference between Luxury and Chic. And I learned that even with a little salary, both of them have more to do with how you feel about yourself than money.
Being Chic has everything to do with being comfortable with yourself. I'm not sure I could ever have said that 100% before I worked for Marsha.
I learned that the moment you feel you can't afford a little luxury, is the moment you should treat yourself to one.
My mom was never comfortable with herself or her place in life, and so she could never see that poverty and wealth were states of mind.
ut with tenacity and perseverance, I know now, thanks to Marsha, that I can always choose to be wealthy and choose to keep pushing my standards higher-- for my own approval.