I write every day, and yet people continue to tell me that I
need to write. I do write. I need to write. I’m compelled every day to speak my
mind, and people listen. People seem to get something out of what I write, and
I want to say that I enjoy doing it, and I do. I love it. It’s cathartic and wonderful and connecting on a level that I don’t think very many people get to experience for themselves on a daily basis. It’s breath-taking. Preachers get it, I imagine. And politicians. But writers? Yes, all of us. We get it. As we’ve all become writers in our pockets, we’ve come to know. Like. It feels good. You know you’ve connected. Pleasant little instant feedback loop. (Until it isn’t. You get to control that, you know.)
I want to say that it feeds some part of me that I can’t explain. But I think I can. I wasn’t an only child, but my only sibling, my sister Debbie, was nine years old when I was born. I had a cousin who lived next door who was only six years older, but for the most part, there just weren’t a lot of kids around my age who I got to share with. Share toys. Share experiences. Share explorations of the world. And thoughts. Big thoughts. And little ones.
We’re the sincere ones. The raw nerves. We’re those people who feel passionately about little things and really just want to share with you some of what we see. But we can be tender. That, among other things, makes us strong over time. We’ve seen much, and we’ve learned. We’ve been alone often, but we have much to share and love sharing it. You’ve known us. We’re in the core of every specialist community.
And some of us—many of us—write. #sincereones
But ultimately, I write because it’s a part of who I am. I’m not a half bad speaker, but I do my best composition alone in a quiet and comfortable space. Coffee. Home. This is where I write best to the world at large. At home. In my space.
I’ve missed a couple of days of confessing my gratitude, but I’m grateful to have maintained it.
I’m grateful for books. My grandmother was an avid fiction reader as are my sister, my six-day-older cousin, and I. My mother loved encyclopedias. My dad was always a newspaper and magazine guy. Reading has always been a liberty that I could enjoy pretty much at my own discretion. I suspect that I scandalized more than one librarian in my youth, but my parents were surprisingly laissez-faire when I was very young. And I was, as I’m sure you could guess, quite precocious. This led to harsh reprisals once it caught up with me, but as a young child, I was able to read voraciously. Everything Coleman Library had to offer. Then Memorial Library. Everywhere I’ve gone, libraries have been my refuge, and I’m grateful for them.
I’m grateful for color. I sincerely weep with those who, on trying on glasses that allow one to see a full spectrum of color for the first time, are unable to contain their emotions. I can’t imagine. I love color. It’s everywhere. Light and dark. Vivid and subtle. And there are so many interesting ways to play with color. I love folks like Vivian Hoxbro, Kaffe Fassett, Lynne Vogel, Claudia McClean, Sophie Digard, Maie Landra, Gina Wilde, Carla Kohoyda-Inglis, and whoever is responsible for the palette at ShiBui. I love people who, in their work and play, make me stop and look. I’m grateful for quilts and spinning fiber and looms and every possible tool one can use to play with color.
Which means, ultimately, that I’m grateful for art. Its expression and its craft. Pastels under your fingernails. Paint on your pants. Clay in places you’d as soon not realize you have places. Getting your hands dirty. Making a mess. Art.
Look at me. Those were the first words out of my mouth. I’m sure of it.
I love to talk. I love to be engaged. I love to interact with other people.
Over here. That was another big one. Come look at this.
I’m full of them.
I’ve always wanted people to see the things I see. It’s maddening for people around me. I get that. I can spend a good fifteen minutes on a really good yarn pic. And I have to repost that shit. It’s required. You spend fifteen minutes drooling over something? You repost. Porn rules apply.
Right. We were speaking of evangelism.
You can probably see where this went awry.
I’ve always questioned everything. It’s in my nature—sometimes very much to my own amazement. How many of you know how to tat? (Hush. Hush. I know. A bunch of you. I’m making a point to the Muggles.) I get involved in things. I metaphorically wallow around in them. Make them mine. Get my stank on them. And theirs on me.
It’s what we do. Car nuts? Gun nuts? Yarn nuts? Color nuts? I’m not saying it’s all the same, but it possesses some similar traits. Ok?
Well, I do that with pretty much everything I touch.
Right now, those things are primarily centered on things that I have to have. Food, shelter, clothing, and entertainment. And yes, I firmly believe that joy is a fundamental requirement of life.
Oh, and there’s one other really big thing. Thing, I say. My boyfriend who will remain nameless on this blog. I want you all to come back, he’s in a place where it’s dangerous to be gay, and I want him around long enough to be able to join me in The US. Also, I’d like The US to be a welcoming place to him when he’s ready to immigrate.
I have a tendency to talk about queer, liberal, geek shit as well as shit of various flavors in myriad combinations, so I sometimes get flamy comments. It’s cool. Ignore them. I’ll delete them as I find them. That’s not what this platform’s for.
And no, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to automatically delete anything I don’t like. But I reserve the right to do exactly that. If you want an open forum, go someplace else. I’m not having it here. My house. My rules. And generally, my rules are pretty liberal. (Get it?!?)
So, Crowing Ram’s back. I can’t say that I know exactly where this is going. But I’ve had friends tell me that I need to be doing more writing. When asked, they said I needed to be doing it someplace other than Facebook. I totally respect that. So, this.
When we were last really here together all at once, things were very different. Hell, it was most of a decade ago. Life’s gone on. The archives are here if you want to look back. I do from time to time. There’s some good stuff in there.
There’s also a lot of bad stuff, and I’m not being maudlin about this. I’m delighted to see how much I’ve grown. How much I’ve improved. One of the lessons that I’ve tried to offer all of my students, customers, and patrons is that one of the most difficult things for an adult to be is a beginner. We’re used to knowing how things work, and we pride ourselves on it. So, being fumble-fingered at anything runs against the grain. I believe it’s one of the fundamental reasons that knitting communities form. The shared experience of overcoming one’s fear and vulnerability in that moment of learning is emotionally charged. People see and honor each other’s journey. That’s powerful.
So, seeing my own mistakes laid out behind me isn’t as disheartening as it might be. They got me here. They taught me thousands of ways not to do things in the future. And ultimately, I’ve gotten a hell of a lot right, too. Maybe not men or money, but I’m still working on those.
I expect that this will be a broader stage than what I’ve played on before. I intend to share cooking, fiber stuff, books, and living in a really cool place when you don’t have children or pets. Is this going to be a daily thing? Maybe. If not, that’s cool too.
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.