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.

Social Interaction and knitting

I’ve frequently suffered from hoof-in-mouth disease.  I say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the presence of the wrong person, and thankfully, I get politely called on it.  Recently, I made the comment that many women over thirty have few social outlets.  It wasn’t intended to be pejorative, and I definitely didn’t mean any offense.  I’ve just been told repeatedly by staff, customers, and friends, that there’s no place in the lives of women like a yarn shop in terms of a place to interact socially with other women.

Now, to be frank, I probably wouldn’t have made such a comment prior to operating a yarn shop for several years, but I’ve got to say that this is something that I’ve heard a lot… from numerous unrelated sources.  I’m not trying to prove anyone wrong.  I’m just curious.  Where do women interact?  If I’ve not offered your best response, please, leave a comment.

[polldaddy poll=2168750]

And on…

There’s a proverbial “ancient Chinese curse” whose age and place of origin I cannot verify. It’s a wish that one live in interesting times. These are they.

Leaving my job and relationship was difficult, and certainly not having an income is scary as hell. That’s not to oddest part, though. What’s truly interesting is my own lack of… well, direction. Obviously, I’m sending out resumes and filling out applications. I’m also working to develop the contacts I would need to start my own web design and development business. I’m also brushing up on a lot of the technical skills that I’ve let atrophy a bit while working in a retail environment.

I even attended the Michigan Works Job Fair yesterday at Lansing Center. I had to scramble a bit because I’ve worn business casual or just plain casual for most of the last eight years, and as incredible as it must seem, I’ve put on a pound or two since I last purchased business attire. I got my hair cut, took out my earrings, got—in the lexicon of my youth—purty, and headed to town. I did make a few wonderful contacts, and I’m genuinely excited about the prospects of a couple.

That said, there was an awful lot of recruitment for positions for which I simply have too many teeth. If you’re a meth head and are reading my blog, when you’re going for a job interview, you should really consider soap. Your Sunday jeans might also be a good idea. And if at all possible, delouse. Oh, and stop reading my blog. Ew.

What’s blowing me away, though, is how much time there is in a day. What on earth are you supposed to do with it all? I mean… I’m using it to try to find a job, of course, but after all of the running around and spending hours on Monster and Career Builder and Dice and Thingamajob and every business’ website who, when I visited them in person, said, “you should visit our website,” I’m left to walk the dogs, fix myself some lunch, and figure out which other thousand sites to visit that afternoon. Seriously.

Fortunately, I really am in good spirits. It’s been sunny, and there’s been considerable promise—at least from retail businesses—in terms of looking for Christmas help in the next few weeks. I’m also amazed at the number of jobs for which I actually am qualified. I haven’t gotten any callbacks, yet, but I’m hopeful.

Knitting? Now that’s another story. I’ve not knit a stitch in weeks. I have had several ideas, though, so once I am again gainfully employed, I’ll be very happy to get my fingers dirty with a little design work. In the meantime, the pups are good, Rob and I are figuring out how we intend to cohabit, and I’m actually feeling very purposeful. Interesting, no?

Saturday Rediscovered

I’ll be the first one to admit that down-time is a good thing for anyone, but the fact is that I’m just not terribly good at it quite yet. After mowing not only my own lawn but the back lawns of the three adjacent neighbors (yeah, I’ve got a little nervous energy working), I did spend about two-and-a-half hours watching the second season of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer because I hadn’t and a friend told me that it was necessary. In retrospect, I see her point, but that was all I could take before I had to get up and actually do something.

I sent out more resumes, and I followed up on a couple of housing options. I spent some time reading, I did some laundry, I did the breakfast dishes (oh, and the omelet was eggcellent), I folded laundry, and I did a little necessary shopping. While in the car with my mother on speakerphone, I was told in no uncertain terms that I must eat something other than the omelet today (a little tense tummy action working this week, and I’ve not been eating much), so I did finally stop at KFC for a sandwich and fries.

Now I’m back at the house, and I’m going to do a little braindump before I head to bed. This whole unemployment thing can be tiring.

Saturday Morning Fever

I rolled out of bed at 9:38am.  On a Saturday morning, I got out of bed at twenty-to-ten.  You don’t have to get how nice that was, but I do, and it was glorious.  Busby was still snoring in his crate at the head of my bed, and Tate was curled into his accustomed little fox roll at my knees.  I rolled over, powered up the Blackberry, and scrolled through several good tidings after last night’s posts.  Thank you to everyone.  I sincerely appreciate your concern and fond wishes.

As for today, though, I’ve just watched the morning fog lift off the river.  I’ve had my shower and powered up the laptop to wish the world a good morning.  I’ll be heading downstairs to mow the lawn shortly, but I don’t hear much activity up the block so I’m hesitant to rev up the mower.  For now, I’m enjoying the view over the river and Riverwalk and into the park across the way… the view that sold me on this house to begin with.  It’s been my little corner of pastoral life in the middle of central Lansing.  There’s a blue heron wading in the shallows, and I hear the ducks bickering from time to time.  The trees across the water are just starting to show the first signs of changing leaves, and I likely won’t be here to see them in their full autumnal finery.  I have, however, gotten a lead on a potential replacement.

I’m heading downstairs to let the dogs out, put on coffee, and start breakfast.  As I mentioned last night, I’ve got my heart set on a nice, fat omelet and crisp, buttery toast.

There’s a kayaker on the river, now.  Good day for it.  Better days are coming.

A Personal Blog