Friday, January 24, 2014

Five Things on a Friday: Fitness is Walmart Edition

Happy Friday!

Let's get to it.

1.  Sally’s Gym Experience
My wife and I have a lot in common.  Like me, Sally is more generalist than specialist, which is to say that she’s a bilingual elementary education teacher who also teaches art and occasionally teaches fitness classes at one of the local gyms.  Sally has long been an athlete, but her career as an actual fitness instructor is new; she discovered this, her third or fourth career, via the wife of one of my classmates.

She loves it.  Introducing others to the joys of being physically fit is an intensely rewarding experience, and Sally has really gotten into it.  Which is why I wasn’t particularly surprised when she told me that they wanted to promote her at the gym; that they’ve been looking for a part-time manager, and Sally was their top candidate.  She got very excited, thinking that this was an excellent way for her to double-down on her passion.

The only problem?  They pay their managers $12/hour.  

This is even less than what they pay their fitness instructors, and frankly, the fitness instructor pay was already so low that it was little more than an honorarium, given alongside a free membership as a kind of “thank you for your time”.  Sally therefore thought of this particular gig as equal parts passion and hobby, and not much else, but if the possibility for more was there, she was interested.  

So she decided to interview--over the phone--for the manager’s job and to try to negotiate.  If they’d give her $15/hour or so, maybe she’d accept; after all, she really enjoys the work.  If I’m being honest, $20/hour is probably what they ought to pay, but maybe that’s just my naivete talking, alongside a decade’s experience working as an engineer.

But no, $12 is what they pay, the end.

Sally was crushed.  She was so upset that she went online to learn more about the company and their corporate strategy, and as she was reading through what was written, she got even more upset.  First off, she found page after page after page of member complaints about the gym’s staff--on a nationwide basis--because, bottom line, this is a company that doesn’t pay anything, and so the people that they get are people who can’t do any better.  They also have extremely high turnover because, hey, who wants to make a shit salary?  As soon as the gym’s employees have enough experience to go elsewhere, they do so, leaving the gym to hire (and hopefully train) more extremely inexperienced, marginally qualified staff members.  And let’s be honest; it’s not like Sally knew what she was doing when she started either.  She took it upon herself to learn, mostly via online videos, and has rapidly become on the gym’s best instructors because that’s who she is, not because of any training program that the company itself has in place.  The only people in the whole company who make any money at all are the sales staff because they get paid on commission.

As we read through this, a corporate strategy began to emerge:
  • Make as many new membership sales as possible.
  • Control costs at all costs.

It’s frustrating to me because I feel like this is the way that business is going in America, that every business wants to make new sales without concerning itself with existing client relationships, that if you want more than that, well, that’s very expensive.  That’s when you’re talking super-high-end experiences--and serious fees.  The idea of offering a quality, affordable product on an ongoing basis is a relic of the past, right alongside Henry Ford’s notion of paying a quality wage for quality work.  Basically, I get the feeling that most companies would pay their people $0/hour if they could get away with it.  Probably using the idea that you need “experience” or “exposure” to do better, via the internship model.

What’s also frustrating is that this particular gym meets my personal needs perfectly, especially since I don’t need high quality trainers or staff.  I need equipment, and since having beautiful, funcitonal equipment is a huge part of what sells memberships, this gym has that by the metric ton.  But I’ve been an athlete since I was ten, and that’s a lot of experience working out, knowing my body, and knowing how to train it.  For the average person just coming in, I get the feeling that this gym--probably most gyms--would just as soon have you sign up and then never come back, that they want your money but not so much your actual time and effort getting fit.

Anyway, none of this jives with Sally’s vision of herself, a person who helps other people look better and feel better about themselves.  I’m not sure yet exactly how she’s going to handle it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she leaves at some point in the future to go teach somewhere else, presumably where the emphasis isn’t so completely on just getting new members in the door.

2. Snow
It snowed again.  You might’ve seen the pictures I put up on Wednesday.  

I mention it because, for whatever reason, this winter has really been getting to me.  It’s been cold and dark, and it’s still only January.  I’m not gonna lie; I’ve been struggling with it.  

This is the first time I can remember feeling like this, actively struggling with the Winter Blues.  It’s probably fueled my writing a little, and I guess that’s a good thing, but I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling stir-crazy.  Take that for what it’s worth.

3. Writing Update: The Crown of Pluto
Cellini's Perseus (1545–54), wearing the
Cap of Invisibility and carrying the head
of Medusa.  The Cap of Invisibility
belongs to Hades, and is also called the
Helm of Darkness.
Speaking of writing, I’m five chapters into “The Crown of Pluto”, just over 15K words, and I’m pleased with that and proud of my progress--especially since it’s come in under two full weeks of work.  But I’m also getting concerned about the length of the story.

When I started these Sneakatara Boatman stories, I’d been struggling to finish anything.  My father was no fan of my writing, but his death in 2007 hit me hard, to the point where I just couldn’t get anything down for more than five years afterwards.  The sole exception to that was the Rival Angels Halloween Special one-shot that I wrote for Alan Evans, a project that may or may not have been great literature but was personally very important to me just from the standpoint of making me feel like I hadn’t completely lost my mind.  I’ll always be thankful to Alan for that one little story; you have no idea how much.

Anyway, when I decided to write “Sneax and Elaina Emboo vs. the Fire Elf” in 2012, I intentionally kept it short.  But I finished that story, and then I finished the follow up, and gradually, I’ve started to feel like myself again.  But as I’ve gained confidence, I’ve begun to envision more complex stories--or rather, I’m just not cutting the original premises short in an effort to keep the stories themselves easily manageable--which is fine, except that the book, “War Stories from Wanderhaven” is supposed to be a collection of short stories, save that the last story, “Crown of Pluto” may well be a novel unto itself.

Well. This is not necessarily a problem.  I mean, I could just cut the crap out of “Pluto” after it’s written--that might actually help it, if I’m being honest--or I could just leave it as is and let people think of it whatever they will.  But it’s weird because just last year I wasn’t sure I could even sit down and write a whole story of 15K words, and now I’ve put down that many in a week and a half, and that’s not even all of the story’s first act.

4.  Super Bowl Odds
As I write this, it’s the Thursday after the Conference Championships, and Denver is favored in the Super Bowl by something like two points.  Why?  It’s like folks have never heard the saying “defense wins championships”, like they’ve forgotten that Manning is half the quarterback in cold weather that he is in warm, like I’m the only one who remembers the NFC’s former Super Bowl dominance, when they would routinely thump whatever pass-happy AFC team showed up for the game.

I get that Vegas sets the odds to get even money on either side of the ledger, that tons of people bet on the Super Bowl who don’t bet normally, that those folks are betting on Manning because he’s got great name recognition.  But still…  I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but seriously, take Seattle and the points.  That’s a much better bet.

5.  Books on Writing
A friend of mine posted an article this week about the difficulties of combat veterans reintegrating into society.  One of the suggestions that the article’s author made was that vets should take up some creative pursuit, like writing, to help them deal with the frustrations of everyday civilian life.  I think that’s a great idea, but I also know that most combat vets are super-charged go-getters, that they won’t just want to write (or paint, or whatever), they’ll want to write well.

I bring it up because, yes, anybody can sit down and write, but reality is that writing readable fiction is as much about understanding effective story structure as writing effective non-fiction is about understanding logical argument structure.  With that in mind, here are some of my favorite books about writing:
  • On Writing, by Steven King.  This book isn’t so-much a how-to book as it is an exploration of the development of King’s process and his struggles to keep his life on track while working as a professional writer.
  • Scene and Structure, by Jack Bickham.  King’s book wasn’t a how-to manual; this one is.  Effective scene structure is what makes fiction readable.  A good book is a “page turner” because the scene structure works, driving both the plot and the reader forward.
  • Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card.  This is another how-to book, and you don’t have to like Card’s politics to read what he has to say about developing your own ideas.  Reality is, Card is a successful working writer with legions of fans, and this particular book shows a good bit of how and why he is successful.  Read it; it’ll make your work better.
Well, the train’s running late today, but I’m out of stuff to write about, and in any event, this thing has already gone 500 words longer than I meant for it to.  

Stay warm and have a good weekend.


  1. Danno, remember you survived the winters at West Point. Now those must have been brutal.

    1. I know, right? Especially that first one. But this one's been tough. Maybe I'm just getting soft.

  2. Clearly getting soft. At least you don't have to wear soothes that match the dreary gray of the walls, ground, sky, snow...

    On ythe gym thing, the cynic in me says that at the end of the day all gyms are there to make money, and the most efficient way for them to make money is with new clients because a) every new client is usually an enrollment fee in addition to a monthly, b) a staggeringly high percentage of gym members keep paying the monthlies even when they don't exercise regularly, and c) making people actually want to show is a revenue drain because it means you have to have the capacity, equipment, and staff to support the additional use.

    In short, you're right. It's a working business model.

    1. I guess that's the depressing thing, that the business model--less cost, crappier service--so obviously works. Clearly there's room in the market for competition, but jut as clearly, making that work would be tricky.

      I want an Acura-level gym. This is Toyota, and the alternative is Lexus. I feel like a better middle-ground is needed.

  3. Another cool post. Has Sally thought about becoming a Personal Trainer? I'm sure it's harder than putting an ad on Craigslist, but it might be a worthwhile alternative.

    Snow sucks man and we have a high of -10 tomorrow. :/

    RE: Writing books...I have them all! And they were all worthwhile, but I found King's to be the most inspiring.

    1. Thanks Alan. My favorite is SCENE AND STRUCTURE. Because even if you NOTHING else about writing, your stuff will still be at least readable once you have scene structure down.

      Sally's been considering a lot of different options. I'm honestly not sure what she's going to do, but it's her career, so in that sense, I don't really have to know. We don't need her to work a lot, but it helps if she bring in a little money. More than that, I want her to have enough joy and time that when I get home from a long, stressful day, she can be there for me. That might sound selfish, but it's kind of the dynamic that our marriage has grown into over the past decade, and it's working, so...