ISO WORK: FT – JACK-OF-YARN-TRADES – Any Location USA

Fiber arts instructor/evangelist and industry veteran with more than a decade in the field and with specific experience in bricks-and-mortar retail expansion and web-based display and outreach seeks full time position in the lower 48 (unless some generous soul would like to relocate me to Hawaii or Alaska—which frankly sounds like quite an adventure).

The job that I relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina to accept was downsized last fall, and I’ve spent the past several months updating my document and web development skills in Adobe Creative Suite and Drupal and looking for possible relocation options.

I need a job, and I want very much to work within the fiber arts industry wherever that might lead. I will likely need to relocate, so I might need a week or two to get set up in a new town, but upon acceptance of any job offer, my first course of business would then be to get there and get up and running as quickly as possible. Everything’s already packed and ready to go. I just need a destination.

Visit my LinkedIn Profile or email me for a copy of my résumé or to discuss possibilities. I’m genuinely eager to help you make your fiber dreams come true.

SKILLS
Knitting, Crocheting, Spinning, novice Weaving

Instructor, novice Designer
Classes include Yarn Are From Mars, Patterns Are From Venus; Sock Options; Finishing is Fun; Custom Yarns for Non-Spinners; Traditional Fair Isle Techniques; Easy Argyle Socks from Scratch

Web & Document Contractor
sites, books, e-books, patterns, pamphlets, newsletters, et al.

Tech and Copy Editor

Fifteen Years of Managerial Experience & Personnel Inspiration

COMPENSATION
Thanks to contacts within the industry, I’m currently building an e-book for a knit designer to be published this fall, managing a website and doing odd tech jobs for a prominent hand-dye wholesaler, and tech editing for a national instructor moving into the pattern design arena, but my monthly income is still below my monthly expenses (which, by the way, have been cut to essentials).

I’m not expecting a cush office or an honorary title. I’m looking for a job: somewhere to work that will promote the love of the fiber arts community to those who are already a part of it and to those who don’t yet realize its benefits.

If you’re concerned about wages, talk to me. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the result. So long as the cost of living is such that I can live in your area on my income, I can always supplement my income with various extracurricular projects. That said, if there are teaching opportunities in or near your location, that would also help quite a lot.

THE JOB
Of course, I’d prefer that my skills be put to some reasonable use, but I don’t need to use all of them in one place. In fact, if you have a purely sales job, I can tell you that I’m likely not a great fit. I manage in sales and support sales teams well, but I’m not a lone wolf. I work best in a team environment and endeavor always to keep the team’s needs foremost in my own decision-making. I’m a builder, an entertainer, a dreamer, and a thinker. I’m also a big guy with a reasonably strong back and a brain to back it up. If you have a use for me today that might grow into something bigger down the road, that’s fantastic. And if you just need someone to haul crates for a while, I can do that too. I need a job, and I need the company of those who believe in the power of the fiber arts industry to make a better culture. If my work supports that in some way, I can find whatever other fulfillment I need outside my job.

LOCATIONS
I grew up in Georgia and lived briefly in Alabama before relocating to Michigan and Indiana where I first entered the fiber arts field. Since, I’ve relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina then Charlotte. I’ve enjoyed each of the places I’ve called home, and I’m eager to begin a new adventure assisting you in building your business wherever that might be.

If you’re concerned about the weather where you are, despite having lived my entire life to that point in Georgia and Alabama, I thoroughly enjoyed the climate in Michigan. Lansing, Michigan. Take that in for a moment. Despite being in the same time zone, the two could barely be further apart. Yes, there are colder and snowier parts of the U. S., and I’m game for it. And yes, I’m already seriously considering a possible desert location.

The bottom line, though, is that I care less about where I am than who my companions are along the journey and how we mesh as a team. How can you put my skills to use?

Recalculating…

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.

But let’s be specific. I was a corporate web developer looking for work in the Indiana boonies when Rob and I started ThreadBear. I worked in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, CFML, ActionScript, and PHP and used Flash, Dreamweaver, ColdFusion. I’ve also done some work in Drupal and WordPress installations and theming. So, I’m blowing the dust off my web developer’s hat. I’ve always kept a toe in, but I’ve been surprised at how easily I’ve been able to shine lights into dark corners of my memory. I’m not sure yet exactly how I’ll market that skill, but that makes one.

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.

Shall we?

Empowering Biz Yarnies

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.

Health, joy, and prosperity,
Matt

Changing of the Guard

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.

140302technicolorram

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.

Earliest version of the blog banner I could find
Earliest version of the blog banner I could find
And its matching blog button
And its matching blog button
A bit later. And yes, I do proudly admit both my enjoyment of the Star Trek franchise and a youthful dalliance with Microgramma. Don't act like you never.
A bit later. And yes, I do proudly admit both my enjoyment of the Star Trek franchise and a youthful dalliance with Microgramma. Don’t act like you never.
This second rendition of The Technicolor Ram was created from the same original photograph when the file for the earlier orange version when it mysteriously disappeared during a period in which my whereabouts can be verified. Really. Not entirely sure what was going on with the font on this one, but thankfully the top part was lost. Seriously, I think this format lasted a week or two.
This second rendition of The Technicolor Ram was created from the same original photograph when the file for the earlier orange version mysteriously disappeared during a period in which my whereabouts can absolutely be verified. Really. I’m not entirely sure what was going on with the font on this one, but thankfully the top part was lost. Seriously, I think this format lasted a week or two.
To be fair, this is also not my best work font-wise, but it beat the previous one...
To be fair, this is also not my best work font-wise, but it beat the previous one…
...so I built a button and ran with it.
…so I built a button and ran with it.
This may have been developed a little earlier, but my recollection is that this was created specifically for use as a real logo when I started my wholesale repping business.
This may have been developed a little earlier, but my recollection is that this was created specifically for use as a real logo when I started my wholesale repping business.
And upon this resurrection of the blog, I dropped in a black background.
And upon this resurrection of the blog, I dropped in a black background.

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.

New Crowing Ram Logo - Main

New Crowing Ram Logo - Compact

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.

Can you?

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.

But what about Matt?

Ok, ok. So what am I doing now?

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.

Addressing the Silence

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.

Happy New Year

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?

Matt, Mom, Dogs and more

Thanks to everyone who’s touched base to see how things are going in Georgia. I’m fine and am currently looking for work.

My mom’s chemo continues, but the first drug showed little success, so they switched her to a more aggressive drug a couple of weeks ago. She’ll likely lose her hair over the next week or so, but after multiple recurrences when she didn’t lose her hair, she’s okay with it now. We’ve been wig, hat, and scarf shopping, and she’s having fun with it as much as she can. All in all, Mary remains herself. She’s grateful for what she has and hopeful for the future.

As for the dogs, I boarded them with a friend outside town while I’m been at my mom’s. They had cats, chickens, and another dog to play with and were quite comfortable. Tate remains happy and healthy, but I’m afraid that Busby got out a few weeks ago and followed his nose into the night. I’ve put out flyers, notices, and everything, but I’ve heard nothing for nearly a month, now. He is chipped, so there is still hope, but I’ve almost resigned myself to the idea that he’s found a new home with someone who will love and care for him… almost. I know myself well enough to know that I’ll continue to look, call, and check in with places that might have word of him, but out in the country where he was, it’s likely that someone would simply have taken him in without much of a thought. As we all know, he’s a sweet, sweet dog.

The Power of Friendship

I’ve been quiet of late for a variety of reasons not the least of which is that major currents are running through my life right now in ways that make me feel very vulnerable to the will of the ocean. I’ve had much reason to become mistrustful, and it has colored my perception of the world around me to a point that I’d severed or strangled many of the relationships in my life. As many of you know, my relationship of eleven years recently ended, and, as public as much of my recent life has been, I remain a somewhat private person. I was adrift, and the sea around me seemed dark, dangerous, and mostly devoid of life.

I did what I think most people would do in that situation. I struggled. I rushed around trying to put together some lifeboat that would see me through, and while I’ve had some success in that regard, I still felt very much alone. My dear family in Georgia has been very supportive, and I have a few good friends here in Michigan who were kind enough to keep tabs on me, but for the most part, my days since September 8, 2009—the day I was asked to packed my things and leave the business that I’ve spent the last seven years building with my former partner—have been desolately empty.

It wasn’t because no one cared or contacted me. Several did. One friend took me out to lunch and listened to the whole sordid tale before offering me a place to stay for a while with both dogs if need be. A couple of friends took me to dinner on a couple of different occasions. Several others have offered similar lunches, dinners, coffees, and the like. But I was going to fix this. I alone had the power.

But I didn’t.

My mom went into the hospital Thursday with an extremely high blood calcium level, lethargy, and impaired kidney function. Yesterday, I found out that it’s likely her cancer is back. She should get the diagnosis today.

Through all of this… through my entire life, my mother has been a strident supporter, a friend of amazing strength and understanding, and of course, the guide and nurturer that all parents hope to be. She’s succeeded. And through her strength, my sister and I along with our families have gotten through the last six years of her battle with ovarian cancer. And in the midst of my own battle, her cancer is back.

I was devastated. I came home, lay down across my bed with a dog on either side trying to comfort me, and just sank. I let go. With waves crashing all around me, I let go of everything and just let myself sink into it. I didn’t cry. I didn’t pray. I just fell.

Then something twitched. It occurred to me to pray, and I did. The tears wouldn’t quite come, but something was moving beneath the surface. I called a friend: someone totally out of the situation except for our friendship. And the weeping began. And we talked. And I cried. And we talked. There was no advice. Just talking. Just getting it out. And in getting it out, I started to find myself. Find my strength. Find that bit that my mother herself nurtured in me. The me part of me.

And in that, I saw that on any ocean, you are never alone. Life abounds around you. Even in the smallest drop of water, life abounds. I started to see the foolishness of my previous attitude… my silence… my stoicism and hermitage. How blind I was. But no more.

I need help. And help is out there. I have put great good out into the world over the forty years of my life, and there are some amazing people who have been trying to give some back. I’ve pushed them away out of some ridiculous notion that I somehow needed to deal with everything myself, but that’s over. I started calling friends, and amazingly enough, several friends have started calling me… offering help that they’d stopped offering weeks ago because of my attitude. Yet somehow, as if on cue, they’re back.

One friend directed me to a James Mapes article, and through it, I found this blog post on friendship that seemed remarkably fitting.

I’m still in the water, and the waves continue to crash. But I’m not alone. I see that now. And I don’t have to do this alone. Thank you, everyone. Your kindnesses are more deeply appreciated than I will ever be able to express.

Women’s Interaction Survey

Monday, I posted a survey asking where women interact.  It’s an informal thing, but I’m curious.  I had a belief based on anecdotal evidence, and no one really seemed to disagree dramatically.  I’d been led to believe that women didn’t spend a lot of time socializing outside work and home, and while my point was certainly not proven, the survey suggested that, of the respondents, most interact with other women primarily at work (17% of the 126 respondents… and no, at that number, I can draw no real assumptions).  10% responded that their primary social outlets were in their own, friends’, or family’s homes.  That seemed to compare as expected against the work numbers.

I may have botched the numbers significantly with two similar responces:  Regularly scheduled needle- or fiber-arts social group (12%) and Needle- or fiber-arts guild meeting (7%).  I intended these to be separate things, but on second reading, I can see how they’d overlap.  It’s a significant number, though, regardless.  The two combined would overwhelm the leading work response.  And 8% listed a local yarn shop as their social outlet of choice.

6% Children’s school, sporting, or artistic events
6% Dining out
5% Non-fiber-related club or organization meeting
5% Theater or cinema outings
4% Yarn shop to which you travel more than a half-hour
4% Place of worship
4% Bookstore
3% Gym or exercise
3% Other answer…
2% Charitable work
2% Bar, pub, or nightclub
2% Bridge or other gaming group
1% Shopping
1% School (as a student)

Responses for Other include:  on a walk, regularly scheduled non-needle- or fiber- group, coffee shop, and, of course, all of the above.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think these numbers reasonable reflect where women get their social interacting done?  Is it happening more frequently online now?  Am I missing anything obvious?  I’m genuinely interested in this being a dialogue.  Please, jump in.

Quick side note:  I’m really glad to see that the bridge or gaming group got some votes.  As a board and card game enthusiast myself, I sometimes feel like a dying breed.

Living in Color