All of my adult life, I’ve been a bit phobic about making the pinched biscuits my mother made at least daily when I was growing up. She showed me her process (there was no recipe) repeatedly, and every batch I made was a crushing disappointment (to me, anyway).
Fast forward thirty years, and I’ve been making my own bread—amongst other things—for the last several months. At first, I had to. I couldn’t afford to buy groceries for a while immediately following my contract ending in June. But I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the process as well as the result.
So tonight, on a whim, I made biscuits. The term we used as kids was cat heads: lumpy, unattractive biscuits. Nothing at all like Moma’s smooth perfect little morsels. But you know what? The interior was perfect, and I learned a thing or two.
And there was no fear. None. I just went into the kitchen and made biscuits like there was nothing to it.
And truly? There was nothing to it. I needed to fail. I’ve said it a hundred times a hundred times to students in knitting classes. Adults hate being beginners, but it’s good for us. We don’t know everything. We can’t know everything. But especially as adults, we really have to work against thinking that because we haven’t done a thing that we can’t do a thing. We’re probably going to screw the pooch a time or twelve, and that’s ok. We learn from our mistakes. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot.
So tonight, I made cat heads. They taste good, and the crusts are fucking divine. The interiors are dense but fluffy. The taste was ok. The shapes definitely need some work. And the sizes were all over the place. Now I have ideas for how to improve them. For next time. Because practice may not make perfect, but it brings us closer to where we really want to be.
I drove into Rockford to visit Valli Produce and picked up some small (roughly racquetball-sized) eggplants along with a jar of prepared pesto. I also got several cheeses including one that I’d never heard of before: incanestrato.
Today for lunch, I cooked one of the eggplants sliced with a handful of sliced mushrooms and halved cherry tomatoes, julienned sun-dried tomatoes and shallot, and a single fat scallion in a large skillet along with a large dollop of the pesto. I served that over whole wheat spaghetti topped with a generous grating of incanestrato.
I’m generally not a great fan of licorice or anise flavor, but there was a sharp but very pleasant note of licorice in what I’m assuming was the cheese (seems unlikely it came from the pesto). Incanestrato is a hard Italian cheese made from cow or cow and goat milk, salt, and herbs. It seems plausible that one of those herbs might be anise, and if so, I’m impressed. It made a believer out of me. I really enjoyed even that specific part of this dish.
Turns out it was the pesto, but the cheese is still excellent.
I have floundered as a writer. I’ve been cautious and cognizant that, in these days of constant scrutiny and universal access to practically everything we publish (and much we’d prefer not to), anything I wrote could make it more difficult for me to find work somewhere down the road. So I’d sit at my keyboard looking at a blank screen and just … well, flounder.
Certainly there are less personal things I could write about. Come on. After over fifteen years in an industry that the majority of my readers support, there are limitless topics of interest that I have working—even extensive—knowledge of. But those things don’t generally inspire me to write. They inspire me to work. They inspire me to teach. They inspire me to create, design, and even to publish, but that isn’t the same thing.
Some of the most passionate, eloquent, and effective prose I’ve ever written has been in social media posts dealing with current events—topics that truly matter to me and that feel critical in this time of social and political unrest. I write from the heart about race, sexuality, abuse, and abuses. I write about struggle and heartache. I write about loss and finding one’s way after loss. What I write about, put simply, is life. That’s where my writing shines.
So that’s the point to which I’ve come, yet again, to either pick up the torch and let its light shine thoroughly onto the things that hide in the shadows or to walk past yet again and to let those creeping things in the dark continue their ugly work. I choose light. I’m no Herodotus. I’m neither Edward R. Murrow nor Molly Ivins. Hell, I’m not even Arianna Huffington. But I have a torch. And I’m here to use it.
I have had the great fortune of falling many times over the course of my life. The knees of the soul I walk around in are scarred and more than a little swollen. I’ve been known to use a cane, and frankly, it’s a very good thing that there are friends beside me to keep me upright on occasion.
This is reality, and as my own personal bard once put it, reality is Ralph.* It doesn’t make great fiction, but it’s definitely inspiring—educational, even. It’s ridiculous and nonsensical and utterly mind-boggling. And it keeps going.
This is a blog. It isn’t the first that’s resided here, and it may not be the last. It is, however, a new beginning. An exciting one.
I’m a writer, you see—and a fiber artist, a graphic artist, a designer, an editor, a geek, an entertainer, a hard ass and big softie, a patron of all things delightful, a pretty damned good cook, and a dreamer of impossible dreams. But ultimately, I write. I talk. I run my freaking gob until the cows come home. And amazingly, some of you actually listen.
What comes next? Well, life does. Obviously. What does that entail? Ha! You’re funny. I don’t have those answers. But I’m mightily full of questions.
With considerably more time on my hands than has been usual for a while, I’ve been able to kind of splash the road grime off my brain and look around a bit. Man, have I been doing stuff wrong or what?
First off, let’s be straight. I hate sales. Or perhaps I should say that I hate the active participation in sales as I’ve learned the concept within this industry. Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the services that good sales reps provide, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with most of the sales reps who visited me when I was buying for ThreadBear. I just hate doing it. And it’s not a judgmental thing in any way. But I’m only good at selling what I honestly believe wholeheartedly will be beneficial for my customers, and I’m not the kind of person who can abstain from offering an honest opinion if one is requested. Depending on the depth of the belief and the importance of the question, one really shouldn’t be surprised that I’m going to offer an opinion whether I’m asked or not. Fairly obviously, I have at least a healthy respect for my own opinion.
I do so because I know me. I’m willing to listen. I’m willing to shift my perspective long enough to hear the other guy’s side. And if the other guy’s side has merit, I’m willing to incorporate new beliefs and methods with relative ease. Having never—as an adult at least—been particularly dogmatic, I can respect sales as a calling while acknowledging that selling a full assortment of other people’s products is never going to be an arena at which I excel.
That being said, I know I did an excellent job for some of my customers. And yes, I know that I also did a crummy job for some others for the most part out of no malice whatsoever. Generally, the issue was more economic, but I digress. Several of my wholesale customers have remained very friendly with me since I stopped repping at the end of last winter. We chat a bit, and a few truly have become friends. But for the most part, the relationship of mutually interested colleagues didn’t change much.
We talk about their shops. We talk about new yarns, designers, market influences, promotions, industry gossip, and all the things I talk about with people who share a love for something that 90% of the people we interact with on a day-to-day basis don’t get. I help them. They help me. That’s what I did when I was a rep with those who would let me, and I continue to do it for free with just about anyone else who will let me. Only now, there’s little profit in it for me beyond personal enrichment and professional networking.
So with time on my hands, that’s a lot of what I’ve done. I’ve talked to people. And one of the things I’ve realized is that I really don’t need a job to be a professional. I am a professional. I have marketable skills and monetizable talents. I know these things. I’ve just been so busy trying to make a living that I forgot what my life was about.
I’m not going to go all schmaltzy. I’m a yarnie. That’s what I do. I love knitting. That’s what I do. And I freakin’ balls-to-the-wall LOVE what the fiber arts industry can bring to their—or rather our—market. That is what I do.
A very dear friend has graciously offered her services as a writing mentor. That might seem like a much bigger deal when I tell you this is a published writer who makes her living at the craft and business of writing. I’m ecstatic. I love to write, certainly, but this blog is likely the least planned repository of writing ever to grace the Internet. And Miley’s on the Internet. So—maybe not.
Also, yet another dear friend who is also an established professional in her field has offered to mentor me in the mysterious science of tech editing. Squee!
If you’re not aware, I’m a puzzle fan and always have been. Nothing terribly ostentatious: crosswords, logic problems, Sudoku. The usual fare. But nothing tantalizes like a garment pattern. Well, nothing tantalizes me like a garment pattern. I expect those little amigurumi characters have some interesting geometry, but personally I’m not interested in making them. At this time.
Furthermore, I’ve been ripping apart patterns and putting them back together as a shop owner and teacher for years. I’ve even dabbled however slightly in pattern design myself. So for someone I truly love and trust to offer that kind of assistance was tantamount to deus-ex-machina.
And finally, deus ex machina. Another dear friend who is an accredited professional in her field despite now working in yarn has agreed to work on a project with me that surrounds her background: theology. Maybe nine months before I stopped repping, she and I had a private conversation in which she began asking me probing theological questions to help me pin down or at least consider my own belief system. I have to say that it was one of the most empowering evenings of my life, and we barely scratched the surface.
Each of these projects will be explored further here. I’ve missed you. And I’m eager to play.
Believe it or not, over the years I’ve encountered a business advisor or two of various stripes, denominations, and levels of personal understanding of how to implement their own advice. That said, I’ve picked up some interesting tidbits of anecdotal evidence that, as self-proclaimed pundit, I believe point in an interesting direction.
A SCORE counselor once told me that banks rarely lend money to start-ups whose owners are under fifty largely because it’s assumed that a professional who has worked in a field for a substantive number of years has failed enough times by fifty that she or he might be somewhat more likely to succeed than a younger entrepreneur of similar skills and collateral. Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, writes in Success Principles that over and over he’s seen himself that failure begets ingenuity and hard work to overcome that failure, and he’s certainly not the first.
Time and again, we go away to empowering workshops and conferences and are inspired, come home, and have fantastic results for a little while. It’s natural. We’re social beasts by nature, and when what we surround ourselves with every day is significantly different in message from what we hear at those inspiring retreats, the energy we bring home dissipates quickly. Please consider the now fairly universally-recognized image of air escaping an air lock. You can breathe just fine as long as the vacuum holds, but the second you’re in space that little bit of air seems to vanish in an instant.
We as entrepreneurs and specifically as professionals in the fiber arts industry need to build a culture of inspiration.
Success can happen. We’ve all seen it. No, no one’s buying property in Dubai on what they made on a Ravelry pattern, but there are people making livings—good livings—working in the field. Some are shop owners. Some own distributorships. Some are designers and/or instructors. Some are sales reps. There are success stories in every segment of the field: people who did the right thing at the right time and somehow made it work. At least for a little while.
Long-term success is about long-term solid choices. It’s about surrounding yourself with the people who best support your vision and moving forward. And when the world falls apart—as evidenced by every toddler who’s fallen but hasn’t decided whether to cry—is all just fine as long as everyone smiles, pulls together, and keeps on going like nothing ever happened. Well. Except for keeping an eye on that crack in the sidewalk. You do want to remember that.
I’ve been teased mostly good-naturedly by several folks about being forward-focused but discussing past failures. My failures have been some of the most invaluable lessons of my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am or have what I do if I hadn’t screwed the pooch rather dramatically on more than one occasion. Come on.
But moving forward doesn’t mean ignoring the past. The past is full of lessons both from a personal and a historic stand-point. No logical person would argue that history is irrelevant to the future. And my history is fraught with lessons. Trust me.
So where do we get this input? Frankly, I don’t know yet. It doesn’t exist anywhere that I’ve found. What destination can consistently be relied upon to uplift specifically the yarn professional’s spirit? Now, for me that’s often Staples. Or Office Depot. Or The Container Store. The order is nice. Things are clean and neat. And I can dream about being able to afford enough of one type of container to hold all my yarn and craft supplies. But the entire industry can’t stroll through Office Max on a stressful afternoon.
So we have video. TED is a fantastic resource depending on how broad you want to go. You have to be discerning, but you can find some wonderful stuff on YouTube as well.
Entrepreneur Magazine has its own feed of videos on YouTube, and I found one today that really resonated with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Here, Barbara Corcoran speaks with great energy and candor about the gains we can achieve through failure and rejection. I’m not a Shark Tank fan, but her keynote at the Entrepreneur Magazine’s 5th Annual Growth Conference 2013 was both thought-provoking and empowering. I hope you enjoy it. [running time 1:05:55]
Ok. That’s great. But there has to be something beyond that. There has to be more. There is.
Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender of Kizer & Bender have their own feed on YouTube. If you haven’t been exposed to this pair of delightful lunatics, I strongly suggest you fix that. Yes, Rich & George, I’m telling the world to expose themselves to you. My attorneys will be waiting for your calls.
I’ve also been a fan of Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon since reading her thought-provoking book, Different. And I’ll admit that it’s the first and so-far only book that ever convinced me to read it from watching a YouTube video.
There’s a vast need in our business to begin to truly scrutinize what works and what doesn’t in a way that can be reproduced and taught to successive generations of business owners. TNNA has done a great deal to get this ball rolling, but a grassroots effort to educate ourselves as business owners and empowered entrepreneurs is necessary if we want to see long-term growth in the overall size of our market.
If you know of empowering videos, books, speakers, or bloggers who you feel might be of benefit to folks in the industry or entrepreneurs, please feel free to share.
I have a literary question particularly for those of you who have small children in this age of iPads, but first, I have an announcement to make.
The Technicolor Ram has turned in his resignation. No, no. Not me. The graphic that I’ve used on this site, my business card, vendor line sheets, newsletter, and just about everything else I’ve generated for several years now. This guy.
Truth be told, he’s not a bad guy. Frankly, he’s done his job admirably. And he’s definitely come a long way, baby.
And yes, all I did was muck around with Photoshop filters over a photograph I pulled randomly off the Internet. I’d been using Photoshop for a while for basic cutting and slicing of web images as a web developer, but I hadn’t spent much time really working with it. So yeah, despite the sophomoric effort I was pretty proud of him. And yes, the file was Technicolor Ram.psd. I think of these things. Hey, knowing that the mechanical shark used in the filming of Jaws was dubbed Bruce won my Granny and me a mug from Tyler’s Restaurant when I was a kid (this was the even more homespun version of Jack’s when they pulled out of Georgia). It would have been in character for even an eight-year-old me to give it a name.
So now I’m learning several new things, and among them is Illustrator. I know. I’m coming late to the game. I’ve been a software junky since even before I learned to program, and since leaving college that passion for [what are now called] apps that really do their job well has only been refined by my understanding of what goes into building them. I collect apps like freakin’ Beanie Babies. And I have always LOVED (did you notice the capitalization? L-O-V-E-D) Photoshop. And because I was usually under a deadline and working under budgetary restraints you likely wouldn’t believe, I made do with what I had in terms of Adobe products.
But now there’s Creative Cloud. And no, I’m not being paid by Adobe or anything. I just hadn’t really realized that the entire Creative Suite… PLUS… was going to be available online as a subscription service that is infinitely more affordable for those on minimal budgets. I’d heard, but I hadn’t really digested how affordable the service would be compared to purchasing outright the software that even in its last most recent incarnation would have placed it well out of my budget. And because I already own a Creative Suite product, I get a rather significant discount on the subscription. I bought Photoshop CS5 when I started repping—again since I was most comfortable with it. But I’ve had various versions of Dreamweaver and Photoshop for years. I was also a Macromedia Dreamweaver user and an Allaire ColdFusion developer. I worked during college in an ad & graphics agency as a web developer and even went to several intensive courses on how to use PageMaker 6.5, the predecessor to InDesign. (By the way, does anyone else’s fingers want to make that iDesign? God, muscle memory’s an insightful bitch.) But I never really “got” Illustrator. Granted, I never tried at the agency because I was too busy with my own work, and every time I downloaded a trial and attempted to learn even the basics at home, it became evident very quickly that my resources were required elsewhere.
These days, though, I don’t have those kinds of distractions, and I’m quite delighted to announce that I’m a proud new subscriber (thanks to a dear friend’s generosity) to Adobe Creative Cloud. I’ve already downloaded the apps I know how to use, but I’ve also taken the time to download and install Illustrator. God bless YouTube. I’ve been able to immerse myself in tutorial videos enough that I don’t feel like a squishy-headed newbie. I’m obviously not a trained artist, but I feel like I could use the software if necessary and will improve rapidly. Realistically, I’m a geek with a new toy. If I can use it to drive a nail through wood, I’ll likely give it a shot.
So again true to character, I’m offering another sophomoric effort to replace The Technicolor Ram.
I was going for something evocative but much simpler, easier to reproduce, more scalable, and more recognizable from a distance. What do you think? I’m genuinely curious to know. And any Illustrator masters are encouraged to provide pointers or resources. These are the first two versions I’ve built, but I think they’re certainly good enough for the banner on my blog if nothing else.
Now if only ColdFusion were part of Creative Cloud. Sadly, no. The standard edition runs about $1.5K. So for now, I’ll be sticking with PHP and MySQL… when I’m not relying on WordPress.
And now for the literary portion of our program. Oh, ye friends of the written word, I’m looking for a source. Or maybe a conversation. Or both.
In A Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein made a reference I didn’t recognize, but it sounded ominous. Here it is. “The truth was that he did not want to ask the Bear what had happened to Algy. The Bear might answer.” At that point in the book, there’d been no previous mention of The Bear or Algy, so I suspected an allusion. But I didn’t get it.
Through a handful of Google searches, I was able to find the reference source in this humorous poem.
Algy met a bear.
The bear met Algy.
The bear was bulgy.
The bulge was Algy.
I found it in a few places online, but I haven’t seen a source. Is this of the Purple Cow variety of traditional children’s poems? I don’t recall having seen it elsewhere.
What hit me about the situation was that as an adult who has little contact with children, I haven’t seen this kind of poem in years. Is it just me? Is it just because I don’t have much contact with kids? I believe these were wonderful tools for learning the subtleties of our language, and certainly the physical books that I had growing up were sometimes the only things with which I had to entertain myself. I pored over books of rhymes and nonsense verse.
For those of you who don’t recall or weren’t exposed, The Purple Cow goes as follows.
I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!
It’s one of a hundred million billion gazillion of these things that were likely the bane of my mother’s existence for years. They might have been why she went back to work so early. Really. It could be a thing.
But they were as formative not only for my language skills but as references within the culture that I can’t imagine not having been exposed to them.
Now, please assure me that there’s some method being employed to keep children engaged with the written word. I know friends who are writers—and readers for that matter—who will set my mind at ease quickly. Please, do.
Edited to include note: I found the source for The Purple Cow on Wikipedia: Gelett Burgess. Apparently, I wasn’t checking the bibliography very thoroughly in the third grade.
Well, I’m currently officially unemployed, but as a dear friend and fellow entrepreneur commented to me recently, entrepreneurs are never unemployed. Thankfully, I’ve found that to be true.
I’m working on a major “saw-sharpening” project that will hopefully pay off in a marketable skill in the near future, and as it comes along, I’ll be excited to share it with you. Yes, it’s knitting-related, and yes, it’s a logical fit. But I’m a beginner, and I—like the vast majority of the people I’ve worked with over the years—don’t care to share my fumbling first steps with the world. Yet. At some point if I’m very, very lucky, it will be something I can share entirely, and oh, that would be fun for a whole huge lot of people. But I’ll stop teasing.
Something I am at liberty to share is a by-product of recently downsizing to more affordable accommodations. I’ve had to unpack, resort, and reevaluate all of my stash and unfinished projects.
Now, if you’re the kind of knitter that I was prior to opening a yarn shop, you probably have at least a room dedicated to your stash and projects. You’ve likely got stitch markers in every upholstered piece of furniture in your home and possibly some in your pet’s bed. It happens. You have a kit that’s literally within an arm’s length at least most of the day every day. Now imagine that same person had access to one of the largest inventories of independent-market yarns in the country for a few years.
When you’ve regained consciousness after the aneurism that thought caused, let’s just say that I was conservative. My collection was limited largely to yarns that I truly loved and were one-of-a-kind opportunities (frequently as products were being discontinued) and projects that I either taught as a class or had planned for either classes or my own patterns. Luckily for me, I suppose, I’m also notoriously non-project-monogamous, so I have a lot of projects on the needles. Some will most assuredly be finished, and some most assuredly will never be. But that also means I have yet more yarn to incorporate into stash.
In the coming days, I’ll share some of the treasures that I’ve unearthed and that I’m going to be using in projects moving forward. But since I haven’t yet gotten much of anything in enough semblance of order to want flash photography involved, I’ll just offer yet another tease.
For one thing, any visitors to my home in the last year or so would know about the three-and-a-half foot tall Collins glass of various shades of Koigu KPPPM that I kept at the corner of the kitchen and living room. I’m a collector. What can I say? I love that yarn, and I absolutely love their dyeing. I’ve been an addict for years, and I expect there are quite a few folks out there still sporting Charlotte’s Web Shawls for which I put together colorways in the early days of ThreadBear. My God, we must have been shipping those things a dozen a day at the height of the craze if not more. I definitely recall many afternoons standing in the post office with tub upon tub of small double-fist-sized envelopes going to every corner of the globe (except Antarctica—I suppose if you haven’t knit it before you get there, you’re kind of screwed).
There’s a similarly tall blown glass vase full of various shades of Mission Falls 1824 Wool. I’ve always loved that original Mags Kandis palette, and of course, this is old enough product to have seen her tenure. In any case, I’ve got a project in mind for that whole vase, and it’s going to be amazing.
There’s a bag of multiple shades of Jamieson’s Spindrift and Jamieson & Smith 2-Ply Jumper Weight in appropriate shades for an old Alice Starmore Fair Isle pattern that I’ve wanted to knit since before the shop ever got rolling. I’ve got the pattern around here somewhere, but that will also have to be unearthed.
I’ve got sweater quantities of Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool (my favorite all-purpose worsted-weight wool on the U. S. market until it no longer was), Blue Sky Alpacas Suri Merino and Alpaca Silk, Classic Elite Bazic, and even a fine-gauge red cashmere that I’m still deciding on a final use for. I’ve blown the dust off The High Helen Sweater, my decadent and damned-near-unearthly Pyramid Sweater, and my Colour-Your-Own Philosopher’s Wool sweater.
And sock yarn? Sweet Jesus, I’ve got sock yarn. It doesn’t hurt that I worked as a sales rep for some of the fastest-selling sock yarns (at the time) in the country for several years, but I already had an extensive collection. And that doesn’t even count the Koigu, and yes, if you want a truly luxurious experience, make yourself a pair of Koigu socks. No, they don’t have an iota of nylon in them, and they’ll wear through like butter if you stomp around in them. But they’re like sex on your feet while you’re sitting on the sofa or really getting dressed. Seriously.
But enough for now. I’ll have the camera up and running before much longer. And I’ll have to toss in some gratuitously cute dog pics for those of you who know my penchant. I may have lost my own beloved mutt, but my roommate is the proud papa of four—count ‘em, four—adult Chihuahuas. Life is never boring.
I suppose it was inevitable that I’d restart the Crowing Ram blog by writing about ThreadBear. Really, it would be sort of silly not to, right? I mean really. Bottling things up is a bad thing. One should talk about things that affect one’s life and livelihood. And I didn’t for a long, long time.
I was embarrassed. Long before I realized that there existed the kinds of fundamental problems with the business that there were, our blogs and newsletters had become places where my partner made subtle—and sometimes less than subtle—jabs at me.
It may come as a shock since I’ve chosen to share this now, but I’m actually a rather private person. I appreciate intimacy, and I was always rather particular about what I shared online. So rather than contest anything that might have made me sound like a lunatic, I kept my mouth shut. As I hid more and more of my painful existence, there was less and less left that I felt comfortable sharing. Eventually, Crowing Ram—as a blog—became silent.
And that’s a shame. There were amazing things going on in that store that were never reported. There were things I learned as the roof was rather literally falling in around me. And many of those lessons would apply to most any business. Edison has been credited with saying that he learned more from the thousands of failed attempts to make a light bulb than he did from his ultimate success. If that’s so, I believe that there’s much to be gleaned from the many great accomplishments of ThreadBear as well as the catastrophic failures that eventually put it solidly in the rear-view mirror.
To paraphrase The Immortal Bard, I come not to praise ThreadBear but to learn from it. ThreadBear was a big shop, and its mismanagement did damage to numerous other businesses and entities. It’s scary to have large players on a small field behaving irresponsibly. So, let me make it perfectly clear that I knew when I walked away from the business that I was putting a bullet into its skull. It needed putting down. It was my responsibility, and I did the only thing that I knew how to do to put an end to it.
That said, I loved ThreadBear and love the part of it that was good still. It needed killing. I won’t deny that. But to not make use of the lessons it offers would be tragic.
This industry needs excitement. ThreadBear knew excitement. And actually, I can’t find a lot of fault in the excitement that ThreadBear generated. There were certainly complaints from competitors that we pulled customers away from them. But not only did we also build a huge number of new customers who weren’t already in the market, we also made concerted efforts to reach out to other shops for participation in events and to refer customers to other shops who carried products we didn’t. And as customers ourselves, we spent thousands of dollars a year in competitors’ businesses. Competition’s a real part of any business, and with very few exceptions I can honestly say that we had healthy respect for all of our competitors both local and at a distance.
There were a few who made the mistake of pitting themselves against us, and I really wish they hadn’t. Their businesses fell. But no business should be in the business of attacking another business. That’s just dumb. This industry needs brains.
And this industry needs growth. ThreadBear knew growth. What ThreadBear didn’t handle so well was controlled growth.
In fact, I’d say control was the one thing ThreadBear truly lacked. It was out of control. That’s bad. Really bad. I get that. And those that were closest to me at the time would confirm that control was much of what I spent my last days at ThreadBear struggling to establish. I’d have had as much luck stemming the flow of a fire hydrant with a cork.
I can’t regret that the business is gone. It needs to be.
But its lessons are both valid and numerous.
And I’m eager to share them. For the industry’s sake as well as my own.
It’s odd, I think, that we talk about coming to crossroads. One of the things that becomes clearer to me with each passing year is that each moment is a crossroads. We choose in each moment what and who we will be. We choose where we put our energy and attention. We choose to dedicate all that we are to one thing or another. We choose to direct ourselves toward our truest purpose—any purpose—or we do not.
I’ll be direct about this. I lost my purpose.
I had a life that fulfilled me in a great many ways, and in that life I found purpose. I enjoyed building the community that supported a thriving and active yarn shop. My customers were—for good or ill—like family, and I was grateful every day for each and every one of them. My students especially gave me a sense that I was building a future for something I hold dear. And I enjoyed building the community that built that community. The staff and instructors that came through that shop were some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. I know that a lot of people complain about sales reps, but I had some of the most wonderful and helpful sales reps; I had the other kind too, but I genuinely enjoyed seeing almost every sales rep that came through. The vendors that I met at TNNA and who made special trips to visit the shop were so good to us, and we had some of the most incredibly talented and wonderful guest speakers and instructors visit. I loved being able to do work that fed my spirit so much on a daily basis.
But there were issues.
Foremost, there were and had been monumental issues at home that only became exacerbated by working and living together twenty-four-seven. As suggested above, I’m pretty keen on choice. I stayed. I can make excuses, but the bottom line is this: I wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d given the man I loved every possible opportunity to save himself. And I disgraced myself in doing so.
I looked friends in the eye and dealt in good faith. I signed contracts. I incurred debt. And did so knowing full-well that the business ought to have been successful. There was no reason it shouldn’t. There were huge bills certainly, but there was income aplenty. Or so I thought.
I don’t know what happened. It was never really spelled our for me. While it stings to have benefitted from DOMA, we never married. I had no legal right to anything under common law. Nor thankfully some of the liability. Almost exactly a year before it closed for good, I walked away from ThreadBear. A couple of months later I found out my mom’s cancer was back and left Michigan for Georgia.
I had under $500 in cash, a storage unit full of what was left of my life, and a mom.
God bless mothers. And God bless my momma.
We got to spend about six month under the same roof, and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a better roommate. And not because she did my laundry. Well, not just that.
We could talk about anything. We’d both gotten out of relationships that weren’t working. We both had regrets and joys and faults and a truly amazing grace that somehow pulled it all together. We were friends. She was still a parent, but she became more. But she did really want me to find a job in Atlanta. I’d be glad to be corrected if I’m wrong, but there aren’t a lot of household-sustaining jobs in the independent fiber arts industry to be had in the Greater Metro area. I interviewed for web development jobs, but after the incredibly tempting third with the team that builds and manages websites for HGTV and Food Network, I placed a hopeful call to Rob Delmont. It wasn’t long before I relocated to Raleigh to take over a sales territory for Skacel Collection. I picked up other lines and built relationships with vendors and shop owners alike, but something wasn’t right. I thought it was the money, so I took another sales job on the chain side. As it turns out, it wasn’t the money.
I genuinely don’t enjoy or excel at sales. I’ve had excellent results for some products and some vendors, but the truth is that those were always—back to the days I was selling Mont Blanc pens and Tumi luggage—products and companies I believed in. I love many of the products that the various vendors I represented were selling, but selling to a hostile crowd is just not my strong suit. If you don’t want what I’m selling, you have your reasons. If you care to share those reasons, I may be able to help you find something you didn’t know I had. Beyond that, I’m more like a librarian than a salesman. (And trust me when I say that in general shop owners are a rather hostile crowd for every sales rep regardless of that rep’s skill, reputation, and history of successful interaction. I know there will be letters. Don’t get me wrong. There are exceptional shop owners out there; I just also admit to myself in hindsight that I wasn’t one.)
That’s why selling product to my customers at ThreadBear was so easy for me. I believed in the product. I was the one who’d bought it in the first place, and every rep who every wrote orders with me will confirm that I hate—and I use that word rarely—to spend money on anything I don’t think is good for the industry, my customers, and my business in that order. Yes, I sometimes chose to cut my own throat on a purchase because I thought it would be perfect for some group of customers. Yes, I sometimes chose not to purchase or discuss products with my customers that I thought were bad for the industry. And yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Let no one ever say that I didn’t do my very best to build that shop into one of the most diverse studios of media and libraries of learning for fiber artists I could make of it.
So now I’m officially unemployed. Fortunately for me, entrepreneurs are never truly unemployed.
That said, if I’m to draw unemployment insurance, I must search in person for work locally. I can get behind that. No, I won’t be abandoning my purpose. In fact, I’m doing quite the opposite.
Sure, if I find something that pays the bills here in Charlotte, I’m game for that. Where the money comes from isn’t terribly important to me. What’s important to me as I hear fireworks going off in the first hours of 2014 is that I have a purpose that needs serving. And as I said, I lost it.
Happy New Year, folks. I think I’ve found it again. Who’s with me?