Monthly Archives: February 2010

OH, THOSE CATS….

And now, a short break from my regularly serious program…. Trying to stay sane as our giant snowstorm turns into a giant cold and gray rainy day.

Today I read a short news item in our local newspaper about the newest recipient of Britain’s Dickin medal.

The Dickin medal, awarded to animals in wartime for bravery and devotion to duty, is the highest military honor an animal can receive. A bomb-sniffing black Lab in Afghanistan named Treo won it this year.

I was intrigued by this about the medal: “It has been presented to 63 animals since its inception in 1943, including 32 World War II carrier pigeons, three horses and a cat.”

Thirty-two pigeons. One cat. What gives??

Wikipedia says this about the cat’s win:

1949: Simon – the ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, noted for surviving injuries from a cannon shell, raising morale and killing off a rat infestation during the incident, by doing this duty despite being wounded. He was raised to the fanciful rank of “Able Seacat” and awarded a campaign medal. The medal was sold by the Royal Navy and is now a valuable collectors item, partly because Simon has been the only cat to win the medal

I don’t know why I think it’s so funny that only one cat has won. For sure there’s just something about them being beaten out by so many birds that tickles my funny bone.

Granted, cats are just not very reliable when it comes to delivering messages, except for the occasional “Yo! I’m outta cat fud!” one. Or when they eat YOUR food instead.

On the other hand, I think this kitty really does deserves a medal!

2 Comments

Filed under funny, humor, life with pets

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T DITCH YOUR SLOWEST SELLER

How your “slowest” seller could actually be your best marketing.

There are two tenets in business that everyone accepts as true:

1. You should figure out what your most popular product is, and sell the heck out of it.

2. You should figure out what your least popular product is, and get rid of it.

In fact, I read it again just a few minutes ago.

Here’s a little story about why you should reconsider step 2.

I’ve been a long-time CVS fan. While waiting for prescriptions to be filled, I would wander the aisles shopping. (In fact, once our insurance company switched to Medco’s online pharmacy, our “miscellaneous” expenditures dropped enormously.)

CVS is losing me as a customer to Walgreen’s. Why?

They no longer carry three products that I love:

a) They no longer carry Physician’s Formula make-up remover lotion
(I LOVE this stuff because it isn’t runny and doesn’t drip like oil versions);

b) Dr. Scholl’s pedicure file (probably because their store brand is cheaper, though not nearly as good);

c) and they don’t carry dental wax (which I want to use to position jewelry for photography.)

Probably because they were slow sellers. Or they had a store brand they wanted to push. I dunno.

But guess where I’m finding these products now?

Yep. Walgreen’s.

Okay, to be perfectly fair, the makeup remover is getting harder to find anywhere. I suspect the product is going through a makeover.

But my point is, wherever these products are, that’s where I’m going to go to get them.

Our local grocery store does the same thing. It introduces new products which I love, and discontinues them when they aren’t big movers.

Other grocery stores pick them up–and that’s where I go to get them. One carries my all-time favorite fruit-infused vinegars. (People, these are amazing to use in homemade salad dressings.) I go to another for my Ghiradelli hot cocoa.

So every month or so, Hanniford’s does not get my $200-$300 grocery bill.

So sometimes your slowest seller can be a draw to very passionate users/buyers. People who will look elsewhere if you drop it, like my favorite pear infused vinegar.

Sometimes an item sells slow because it’s really expensive, or very unusual. It can still be a huge draw to your other work. And it can make the rest of your work seem more affordable. I don’t sell too many $5,000 wall hangings. But when I do a) it’s the equivalent of selling a hundred $50 items, and b) it does a bang-up job of publicity.

My Big $5,000 Wall Hanging (from Niche Magazine, April 2006)

Sometimes a “slow” product will come back around. I hadn’t sold much fish jewelry in years. Maybe their time was over? When I put my “business hat” on, I considered dropping it. When I put my “artist hat” on, I realized it still had a story to tell. And guess what? I’m now selling more fish.

Fish necklace, back in demand!

Or perhaps it just hasn’t had time to catch on yet. I hardly sold any sculptures when I first started out. Just when I was about to lose hope, sales took off. Plus, turns out they fill a major niche as a gift for guys. I would have lost that marketing opportunity if I’d given up too soon.

Maybe your slow seller is something that sets off the rest of your products. Years ago, a friend had a yarn store. She didn’t carry any yellow yarn, because “it didn’t sell.” I showed her an article by a color designer for a local yarn mill. The designer said every line should have a yellow “because it fills out the color wheel, and makes other colors sing.” The store owner added yellow, and her sales rose.

Maybe your slowest seller is a dog* because of very good reasons. It’s out of fashion, you make a better one now, or you can’t even get the supplies to make it anymore.

But unless you’re sure it no longer serves any purpose, consider it a small price to pay for a few very special, very passionate customers.

Because any customer who is passionate about your art is sharing that passion with a lot of other people.

And that’s a good thing.

P.S. I apologize for calling any part of my/your art “a dog”. Just trying to give some good business advice here, as well as good artistic advice.

9 Comments

Filed under art, body of work, business, craft, marketing, selling

FIXING A FIXER

Why it’s okay to say no sometimes. Maybe a lot of times.

Years ago, an older gentlemen came to my booth at a big show. His visit changed my life.

He was so excited by my work. He was an artist himself, and he had incredibly rich things to say about my art. And about me.

“You’re a shaman!” he exclaimed over and over again. “You’re a shaman!”

I felt uncomfortable with that. Who am I to say I’m a spiritual healer?? I can hardly figure out what MY life should look like. Where would I get the gall to tell someone else how to run theirs?!

He went on to explain. And I’ve never forgotten his words.

All shamans are artists. But not all artists are shamans.

All shamans are teachers. But not all teachers are shamans.

All shamans are healers. But not all healers are shamans.

He went on to say much, much more. And some of it I still work through. (For example, I wondered why I still feel uncomfortable telling people this story, until a new friend told me that “shaman” is never something a true shaman calls herself; it’s what other people call them.)

What do these shamanistic traits–creativity; healing; teaching–have in common?

They are all about seeing ahead to what cannot be seen right now.

They see possibility.

A healer sees a person with has discord, imbalance, pain. They also see the person person could have balance, comfort and peace of mind. (Like hospice, not necessarily curing, but healing.)

A teacher sees a person does not know, and cannot do. They also see the person could learn, and grow, and achieve.

An artist knows something is inside her that needs to come out into the world to be seen, heard, experienced. It is not there until she makes it.

Personally, I think we all have our moments of shaman-hood. A parent, a good friend, a stranger, all have the ability, perhaps for a moment to lift us out of ourselves and help us see our true potential.

But I digress. Because I think sometimes, these things that make us a good parent, or a good friend, or a good artist, or a good healer, also makes us a very bad “good person”…..

A…(gasp!)…fixer.

In hospice, “fixing” is akin to “curing”. It’s simply not what we’re here for.

But the healing/teaching/creative arts tend to call to fixers. (It has to be trained out of us.) One of my trainers calls herself a recovering fixer. I LOVE that phrase! Another name for it is “Helpful Hannah”.

I hate that tendency. If I’m not careful, I let myself get sucked into someone else’s little life drama. Or I’m soon handing out advice they didn’t ask for, or don’t even want.

Some people don’t really want to be “fixed”. They get something out of being the way they are, or being in the situation they’re in. (I love Dr. Phil’s line, “Is that working for you?”)

Because everyone knows (especially us who had to learn it the hard way)….

You can’t fix other people. You can only fix yourself. (And let me return to that statement, because even that can be a trouble-maker….)

Just so I don’t sound heartless and unsupportive, what does help someone in dire straits is to simply….listen to them. Listen deep. Someone once said, the best gift you can give someone is to listen–really listen–to them. (I tried to Google the quote but came up with really naughty links…) Good docs listen to the stories their patients tell about themselves. Likewise, shrinks, social workers, priests, good friends, parents. This will also help you sort out the people who are really trying to work through something, and the time-suckers. Because the time-suckers just keep telling the same story over and over and over, as often as you’ll listen.

But I digress again.

So….Sometimes the things that make us a good artist–being open, trying to know what is inside us, being sensitive to what our work needs–makes us even more vulnerable to the influences of the outside world and other people. Because we can also be vulnerable, sensitive and open to the needs of others.

Especially situations and people who look like they need fixing.

If your art comes from a deep, healing place in your heart, this is especially true. You will be sensitive to people and situations that need healing. Your impulse to fix, if left unchecked, will pull you off track.

It’s a constant struggle. Hospice is teaching me not to be a fixer.

So why did I say “you can only fix yourself” is trouble-making?

Because sometimes it’s not about fixing yourself (which is linked to trying to be perfect.)

It’s about forgiving yourself for being human.

So don’t beat yourself up when it happens. When you drop everything to help someone. When you volunteer for every good cause. When you say “yes” to every question, to every phone call, to every excuse not to make your art.

Just ask yourself where the impulse comes from. To make that person feel better? Or to make yourself feel better?

Make a good choice. Know what you’re setting aside, what you’re giving up.

Sometimes, it’s the right thing to help someone. Sometimes, it’s you that needs to be the healing heart.

And sometimes, it’s your creativity, your art, that is needed to bring healing to the world.

Congratulate yourself when you make a good decision.

And forgive yourself when you don’t.

For more articles along this line, check out:

The Importance of Solitude

Everybody’s Mother

It’s Not My Problem

Helping

Oh, gosh, apparently this is a prominent theme in my life! So folks, do what I say, not what I do, okay?

2 Comments

Filed under art, choices, craft, creativity, hospice, lessons from hospice, life, mental attitude, mindfulness, networking, time management

I’M NOT A BAD PERSON

Today you get permission to be unsociable.

As connected as I am to the world-wide web, I try to insulate myself a bit.

I try not to look at other people’s art too much. If it’s good and I like it, I want to imitate it (which is okay for inspiration, but not for my core aesthetic.) If it’s really good, it just makes me feel bad about my work. If it’s bad, it’s just a waste of time. Or it makes me feel smug, which is not being the Buddha. (If it’s really bad, though, it’s funny.)

I try not to read too much Twitter. Either it’s pretty mundane stuff, or I get caught up in what they’re saying, and forget what I want to say. Although lately I’ve been ROTL at this one and that one. I enjoyed tweeting (love to hear the sound of my own voice, there, I said it), until I realized how much time I was spending doing it.

Same thing with blogs. There are some great ones out there, with heady stuff. But then I start comparing mine to theirs. And then I worry about how many people are reading mine (or rather, how few people are reading mine). It becomes all about the numbers, and not about what I want to say.

It feels like when I worry excessively about how much artwork I’m selling. I stop thinking about the work I want to make, and I focus on what I think will sell.

So when things are slow in the studio, I venture out a bit. Otherwise, I try to unconnect.

Today, from one of my favorite blogs, I received permission to be this way.

There are blessings to social media. But there are repercussions, too. Connection is wonderful. But I don’t want to wander aimlessly from point to point. And I don’t want to be just a point someone passes through to get somewhere else.

Except….in my artwork, and my writing.

I don’t mind being an experience people absorb and go through, to get to where they dream of being.

Not by copying my work. (I just found a website where a former customer, whose been copying my work for four years, brags about her “original” and “unique” designs…. Sigh.)

Not by being the Buddha. Because some days–okay, most days–nobody would ever mistake me for Buddha. Before I had rich dyed dark red hair, BTG (Before The Gray), I had rich medium red hair. And I embody every inch of that redhead temper thing.

I hope by sharing the hard days, and the good days, by sharing what I’ve learned and what I know, I can help people get to where they want to be–to help you get to where you want to be.

I hope that by telling you when it’s hard, it’s not always because you aren’t good enough, or not savvy enough, or not experienced enough, maybe you’ll persevere with your art.. (And even if it IS because of that, you can get better. I did.) Sometimes it’s hard because….it’s just hard. Period. I hope that encouraging you to make your art helps you stay the course.

And like Naomi over there at IttyBiz, I hope I help you by giving you permission to decide for yourself what deserves your focus, and what doesn’t. To decide for yourself what success is, and what isn’t. To make the art that is in Y-O-U, and nobody else, and to get it out into the world.

Take a minute to read her essay.

And remember, it’s okay not to answer your phone sometimes. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay not to text/IM/facebook/tweet/link/ning/blog/read today’s newspaper.

It’s okay to simply be unavailable. To turn off the ringer and let the answering machine/voice mail/thingie do its job.

Now go to your studio and make some stuff.

P.S. Now I wish I hadn’t given myself permission to publish this without thoroughly proof-reading it first! :^) I just fixed six typos….

17 Comments

Filed under art, business, copycats, craft, inspiration, jealousy, social networking

BUBBLES

I got a lot done in the studio today. I promised two of my galleries I’d restock them after the holiday rush on my work. (Whoo hoo!)

I’m working on a popular new series of jewelry using more organic, simple beads of polymer, accented with freshwater pearls, found objects, wrapped stones, oxidized sterling silver and soft ribbons of leather I cut from recycled leather clothing. It seems to appeal to people who like my aesthetic, but want something more “neutral” than powerful animal totemic work.

I’ve been “in the zone” most of the day, moving easily from one production task to another–drilling pearls, making more polymer pod beads and spacers, cutting leather strips, oxidizing findings, making head pins.

This evening I was dashing around finishing up some stuff so I could relax “later”. The last errand took me across town and back.

On the way back, I thought maybe I could practice being “in the moment”.

So instead of wishing I could hit all the green lights, or cursing the idiot who pulled out in front of me at the rotary, I tried to slow my breathing down. Breath…… In. Pause. Out.

I relaxed and paid attention to what was going on right now.

“I’m driving the car,” I thought. It felt like flying.

My knee ached a little. “My knee hurts,” I thought. But that was a good thing. It meant I’d gone for a long, vigorous walk with our dog Tuck. I remembered playing “monster chasing dog” and “kick the pine cone” and “grab the stick and pull” games.

“I’m driving with my dog in the back seat,” I thought. Tuck chose that moment to stick his head from his seat in the back to rest it gently next to mine in the driver’s seat. Sweet.

“I’m cold,” I thought. The car was still a little chilly, but it was just enough for me to sense it, a good feeling.

“I’m on my way home to my family.” That felt good, too.

“This is a pretty town,” I thought. Keene does have a really nice downtown. This is where our kids grew up. No matter where we end up, it will always hold a special place in our heart.

“It’s a beautiful evening,” I thought.

And then I thought, “I’m driving through a cloud of soap bubbles. And I was.

Someone in an apartment above must have opened a window and blown soap bubbles to drift down to the street below.

It was wonderful. Quite a lovely moment.

Then I saw a very flat, very dead squirrel, and the moment was done.

10 Comments

Filed under art, craft, gratitude, humor, inspiration, jewelry, jewelry design, life, life with a dog, mental attitude

TODAY’S LESSON FROM HOSPICE

Small musings with big implications.

So where was I the last month or so? Well, rest assured I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere.

December was a wonderfully busy time, full of small craft shows, big sales, and lots of entertaining at our house. We attempted to have everyone we’d ever thought about having over, over. It was mostly successful, which meant back-to-back dinners, parties, multiple Yankee Swaps, etc. We missed a few important folks, but made a final sweep and got most of them over, too.

In early January, I was called in for a vigil, to sit by the side of a person who had perhaps days to live. The person had requested company, and I was one of the team of volunteers who sat with her for several hours each day.

The days stretched into weeks. She was waiting for something, it turns out. The strength of the human spirit astonishes me once more. More about that phenomenon another time.

The point of today’s musings is something I thought of a lot during those precious weeks:

Some things cannot be cured.
But they

    can

be healed.

In our modern Western culture, we sometimes confuse the meaning of those two words. Yet they are the very core of hospice work.

At first glance, it is about the medical care. We cannot cure what is killing you, says hospice. But with palliative care, with understanding and support, we can ease the pain, soothe the soul and be there for you. You don’t have to fight. You can simply….be. Whatever that looks like for you.

The care is so profound, sometimes people rally wonderfully. They gain a few days, a few weeks. Their passing is eased.

Because the care is healing.

It is a theme very much in my thoughts these days, one of the gifts of hospice.

We tend to think of things in black-or-white, right-or-wrong, fixed-or-broken. It’s a natural brain state, this polarization of thoughts, concepts, perception.

I myself tend to be extremely judgmental, a tendency that has caused me much grief in my life.

But as I get older and accrue some wisdom, I find myself more fascinated by the gray areas.

Someone can wrong me terribly. Yet I can see now their actions really have everything to do with who they are, and nothing to do with me.

Doesn’t mean I love ‘em, though. I’m not a candidate for sainthood yet. I can work on the forgiving part. Forgetting is harder. (Probably something to do with self-preservation, would be my guess.)

I can love someone, yet understand their shortcomings. I can ask this thing of them, but not that thing. Don’t ask something that’s made to carry bread, to carry water.

I can see that the things that annoy me hugely in other people, are things I do myself. And I can see that the things I hate about myself, my weaknesses, are sometimes my strengths.

As hard as it is for me to forgive others, I see it’s even harder to forgive myself.

And so even as we mindlessly scurry about to get that assignment done, to run our errands, to win that argument, to fuss about our stuff, we can suddenly run right smack up into the face of death. Either in someone close to us. Or a perfect stranger. Or ourselves.

What’s important, when we find the bottom dropped out of our oh-so-ordinary lives?

I’m seeing that it’s not our accomplishments (though they have their place in the world.) It’s not our fancy homes and cars and vacations.

It’s who we loved, and how we loved. And that we loved. It’s who loved us, and who we wish had loved us.

We can never even know where our acts of love finally traveled. We launch a little paper boat in a swiftly turning river, and have to trust that it eventually traveled far enough to do somebody some good.

That….is faith. Doing the loving thing even when you can’t be sure it did a damn bit of good.

Because in the end, it is the work of our heart that stays with us, until finally, there isn’t even that. Just us, taking that last step alone. Because that’s how it works.

Yes, there are family feuds. We’ve all got ‘em. There are wrongs that were never righted. We’ve all seen the wars that never ended because of that. There are misunderstandings that were never sorted out. There was potential that was never used, and strengths that were never honored. As the old prayer goes, there are things we have left undone, and there are things we ought not to have done.

In the end, there is simply someone sitting as the light wanes, holding your hand. No words. Just being there.

Such things things in life cannot be fixed. They cannot be cured.

But they can be healed.

P.S. Just so you know I’m really NOT a saint or an angel, let me just say there are still a few people I’d really like to smack, okay?

13 Comments

Filed under art, hospice, lessons from hospice

WRITING A BOOK

The rewards of writing a book go way, way past the money stuff.

A fellow craftsperson wrote me recently. She’s been asked by a publisher to write a book! Excited and a wee bit overwhelmed, she asked if I had any suggestions or comments.

You know me. I got a million of ‘em.

But for your sake, and for the sake of the customer who is waiting patiently for me to ship their order to them this week, I will be succinct.

Yes, I wrote a book on carving stamps. It was the first of its kind, and I’m still proud of it. I’d love to write more books someday. (Anybody out there in the book publishing world listening? Helloooooo….?)

If you are considering writing a book–especially if a publisher has approached YOU about writing a book–

DO IT!!

Why especially if a publisher asks you? Because half the work is done. You don’t have to send out dozens of book proposals and then wait for all the rejections. You don’t have to second-guess what kind of book they’re looking for. You don’t have to prove yourself–they’re already into you!

Don’t expect to get rich from it, or even make very much. It’s possible, of course, but not likely.

However, the publicity, the credentialing, the excitement, the entire experience, will be worth it.

So how much money are we talking about?

You will be given an advance to start writing the book. An advance is money paid out by the publisher before actual publication, in anticipation of what the book will bring in dollar-wise.

As the book sells, your advance is deducted from the royalties due you. If the book outsells their expectations, you get a royalty check. If the book doesn’t sell well, you keep your advance but you don’t get any more money.

I was paid an advance of a couple thousand dollars for my book. Now, this was before publishing took a major hit and before we bailed out a lotta banks for a few billion dollars. I don’t know if that is industry standard anymore or not.

Despite good sales, I’ve not received a penny more in royalties. I am not the Harry Potter of craft book authors.

The advance was good money for me, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

But more than just the money, I’ve gained a lot in exposure, in web presence, in credibility as an author for writing that book. I got more writing gigs because of it.

And this was for a book that wasn’t even about my main art form. It was about my art hobby. If you are asked to do a book on your own art medium, you would benefit even more. I would have gotten a lot more mileage from my book if stamp carving had been my major art form, or if I’d written a book about my wall hangings or polymer work.

When you’re finally asked, is it scary? Oh, yeah. Exciting, wonderful, and yes, also daunting. Kinda like having a baby.

Things to keep in mind:

An editor will work along with you, so you don’t have to “construct” the entire project yourself.

Publishers also usually do their own photography, so no need to worry about that.

They may have a specific “recipe” or format in mind for the book–is it part of a series of other crafts? This will help you select projects, etc.

Most importantly, there’s another reason writing a book is like having a baby:

You really can’t change your mind halfway through.

A lot of people START books.

A publisher’s biggest fear is that you will not FINISH the book.

They lose a ton of money if they invest an editor, time, money and space in their publishing schedule…. then the author freaks out and refuses to complete the project.

So….Do everything you can to meet deadlines and work with their schedule. If you renege on the deal, you will find it difficult–if not impossible–to ever work with that publisher again. Probably any publisher. Word does get around….

Cooperate with their proposed format. The publisher asked me to write a book for their Weekend Crafter series. I got carried away. I was determined to write the compleat work on stamp carving (and no, didn’t spell that wrong, look it up. I think I scared my editor with all my grand ideas for additions and “improvements”, til she gently reined me in with the response, “You need to save that for your next book.”

Good communication is key.

One last tip:

Don’t be afraid to let the real “you” shine through. Whatever is distinctive about your personality–your quirky sense of humor, your way of turning a phrase–it is an asset. (Unless you’re mean.) Don’t get so caught up in the “professional artist” thing that you sacrifice your blithe spirit in the process.

And one last thought:

It may seem like a big, daunting project. But you will be working on it one section, one project, one chapter, one deadline at a time. Just like eating an elephant, you will take it one bite at a time.

In the end, it will be worth it in so many ways, things that will last long after the book is out.

I still get a kick out of people who show up at my shows, or my open studios, with a copy of my book in hand, and ask me to sign it.

I still love looking up the reviews of my book, and reading the wonderful things people said about it, and about me.

I still feel a frisson of pride when I come across my book on a store shelf, or when I display it in my studio.

I love mentioning oh-so-casually that I’m an author. I love remarking that both my husband and I are published writers, and our kids have had their work published in before they were out of elementary school. (Doug and Robin’s carved stamps appeared in another Lark book.)

I admit it, I am a small person at heart when it comes to being proud of my book.

Caveat: This was my book writing experience. Your mileage may vary. Your experience may be even nicer, or maybe not so nice.

But I still think it’s worth doing.

Any questions?

9 Comments

Filed under art, craft, publishing, taking chances, writing, writing a book