Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mother Naure, Courage, Humanity

Yesterday I went out for a lunch with a fellow jewelry maker. It was wonderful. We talked and laughed and shared information. And had I known that it would be almost the last food (and water) I'd have for 12 hours, I might have eaten a bigger meal. ~wry smile~

I left the restaurant at 2 pm, and that's when my own personal nightmare (and a nightmare for millions of others) began. I couldn't get out of the area where the restaurant was located. Cars were totally gridlocked at all exits. I sat for THREE HOURS straight and managed to travel about 1 mile. Why? Because it was snowing...


As innocuous as that sounds, I was in Atlanta. We were having a massive storm. And I was unfortunate enough to be right in the midst of the city's logjam. The snow came down thick and fast until about 8 pm that night, and around 1 pm all the city's schools decided to close early, the businesspeople were leaving to go home, and weather-related accidents were starting to happen. My local readers will understand exactly what I'm talking about (I know some of you were caught in this as well).

I finally turned the car around when the section of road going the other direction opened up a bit, and traveled about two miles. By now it was around 5 pm and streets were looking pretty slushy. I knew it was going to get REALLY ugly once it got darker and colder; everything would turn to sheets of ice. But I couldn't go anywhere. Less than ten miles from home and absolutely trapped in the sea of cars that also sat, idling, frozen, (you might say) in place.

By 6 p.m. I was thinking that I might have to sleep in the car. It was THAT bad. And it showed no signs of improving. I'd given up trying to get to the freeway, trying instead go home on surface streets. I know that they are usually more treacherous, but I was hoping to get out of the gridlock. Unfortunately there WAS no "out of the gridlock". Between 6 and 8 p.m. I was in laser-focus mode, alternately creeping and sliding through the hilly streets, eyeballing the other cars skidding in my direction, looking for parts of roadway with less icy areas, where there was still some crunchy snow. I'd break free from sitting in a line of cars and go ten, twenty feet, only to be blocked by another line of cars. I also hadn't eaten, had no water, hadn't gone to the bathroom, and was worried about running out of gas.

Around 8 p.m. I was stuck in another line of cars, and considering parking on the side of the road. I was stopped at a flat area and I figured it was at least a place where I could get out in the morning. But I really, really didn't want to sleep in my car if at all possible. I would have tried to walk home (as so many others did) but I was still five miles away and I knew I didn't have a five-mile walk  - in twenty degree weather - in me. So I stayed put. Eventually the line of cars started moving again, and I crept forward. I skidded around the banks of the Chattahoochee River, telling myself "don't skid to the right!" as I eyed the water. I watched the cars ahead of me fishtail. My GPS tried to take me through a subdivision, but I knew if I got onto those roads I'd never get back out. I needed to stay on the most traversed streets, so I continued on, even though doing so took me further from home. 

I stopped at the bottom of a wicked hill that wast my next turn, and I watched three other cars attempt it, start fishtailing, then turn around s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y and head back. I really thought that might be where I spent the night. I wasn't going back, but I wasn't sure I could go forward. Two more intrepid souls attempted the hill and they made it! I watched where they started, how they angled the car, when they hit the gas...and I took my shot....and I, too, made it. I crested the hill and inched onward, creeping and crawling, skidding and braking.

Even when traffic gridlock wasn't an issue, the streets looked like this (that's the road, on the right side of the photo). Total ice.

I came to a crossroads...Holcomb Bridge, the main road that would take me home. Left was the way I needed to go. But it was packed with cars. By then it was after 9 pm and I didn't have it in me to sit in another line of cars - I was still four miles from the house and this line was massive. So I looked right. The road was mostly deserted, but I'd have to get up BIG hill. The biggest one I'd encountered so far. I wasn't sure I'd manage that...but I did. I got up the hill, passed an abandoned delivery truck, ran a red light (I needed the momentum), and made the next turn. Which brought me to the high school near my home. Three miles now. I was facing another crazy turn - a left followed by a quick right, because I was going into another hill immediately after the left turn and would again, need momentum. Tricky...but there was already a car ahead of me, skidding and sliding and finally, stuck in the middle of the intersection. I couldn't go through the intersection with that car there. So I thought to myself,"Well, I'm in an SUV. The snow in the median doesn't look too deep..." and before I could think about it further, I hit the gas. Front wheels over the median, all four wheels on the median, front wheels off the median, and then I was past it!

The next two miles were relatively peaceful (lack of traction notwithstanding!); streets were wide, with very few cars on the road, and I wasn't skidding too much. I started thinking that I might actually make it home (or close enough to finally walk). And then I got to a mile from home and had to stop. I was at the bottom of another hill, on a narrow road, and it was just littered with cars, both those abandoned in the street and those with drivers who were still trying to get home. I watched an SUV attempt to go up the hill, but it was blocked by the cars trying to come down, and it started sliding backwards. I realized that this was my last stop. I just wasn't going to make it any further in the car.

This is the kind of navigating I am talking about. Not much room for managing your sliding and skidding...

So I pulled my car over to a flat area, hoping it would be far enough out of the way that no one would end up sliding into it once I left. The distance to home was one mile. The walk I regularly take around my neighborhood (sans snow, of course) is just under two miles. I knew the area and terrain. I'd be chilly, but if I got home, I'd have some dinner, some water, a bathroom, and my own bed. I started bundling myself up and grabbing anything I thought I needed, and while I was getting ready, two men began taking charge of the hill traffic. They held up the traffic at the top so the people at the bottom could go through, and then let the top cars come down.  So I got in line to go up, and I made it through. I can't tell you how I felt when I crested the hill and KNEW I could get to the church parking lot across the street from my subdivision. Which I did. And then I walked the quarter-ish mile home. I had on boots, but they didn't have any traction, so I very carefully navigated the street and then kept to the snow covered lawns to make it home - my neighborhood is very hilly and I didn't want to slip on the hills now that I was so close.

When I saw the house I nearly cried. I opened the garage door and I think that was the first time I'd taken a deep breath in nine hours. HOME!

It was 11 p.m.

I had spent 8.5 hours in the car, and half an hour walking, to navigate what is normally a twenty minute drive.

I have never been so happy to come home in my life.


So. It's an understatement to say that I didn't enjoy my day. It was awful. It was stressful. I hope to never, ever, have to do that again. But I learned a lot about myself:

First, that I have more fortitude than I thought I did. I nearly gave up on my travels several times. But I was really motivated to get home if at all possible. I was fortunate that there were no wrecks to block my way, no abandoned cars blocking the road so fully that I couldn't navigate through.

Many of my blog readers know that I'm from Arizona; I've never really driven in ice and snow. I tried to use common sense, I watched what other drivers did, what worked and what didn't work, and emulated the actions that worked. I laid on the gas to get up the hills even though I was afraid of skidding. I crept, foot cramped on the brake, infinitesimally down the big hills to try and minimize sliding.

Several times I was at a literal crossroads and had to just make a gut decision to try or not to try. I worried about going into the water, skidding off hilly roads into nothingness, and smashing into other cars (or them smashing into me). I was tired, sore, hungry, thirsty (the only things in the car were some leftover sunflower seeds of my husband's from a previous road trip, and - don't ask - a bottle of champagne, of which I eventually drank about a third). I had no bathroom break for nine hours. But at no point was I ready to quit. Which doesn't mean I didn't think about it. But each time I thought, "I'll just try to go a little further" and I was fortunate to get further, until I was close enough to continue on foot.

It's not the most courageous thing anyone's ever done, not by any means. But for me it took a lot of courage to continue, to persevere when I thought I couldn't. To believe in myself that I could actually get where I needed to go. If I hadn't, it wouldn't have been a personal failure - there were a lot of circumstances out of my control. Many others didn't make it home that night, and they DID sleep in their cars (or churches, or schools, or hotels, or others' homes). That's not their failure either; they did the best they could with what they had. Some of them were less fortunate than I. I'm not kidding myself - I know that I was very, very lucky to have gotten all the way home.

But I am proud of not giving up. For setting myself a plan and sticking to it until I had to make another plan. For being adaptable when I needed to adapt.

And I can tell you that it would have been a lot worse without my husband, my mom, my ATL girls (one whose husband was also stuck out on the road most of the night), who texted, called, Facebooked, and checked in on me regularly. They offered me their houses, updated me on the news, kept me sane and made me laugh. It would have been a lot less tolerable without them. My peeps: you all were so wonderful, thank you!!

I also want to recognize the total strangers who were a part of my journey. I wish I knew your names:

- the kids who stood out on Chamblee Dunwoody and urged motorists to use more momentum going up the long hill

- the stranded motorists on Eves Road who yelled and gestured and told me to "keep going, don't slow down, go, go go" as I climbed that crazy hill

- the two men I mentioned earlier who managed the traffic on Old Alabama, helping more of us to get, if not home, at least closer to our destinations

- the woman who, when I finally parked the car in the church parking lot and started walking, yelled "the church is open if you want to get warm!"

- and the people out for a stroll in my neighborhood, who yelled, "you okay, sweetie?" as I was plodding my way home. I told them I was. It wasn't a lie. :)

I am touched by the kindness of these random strangers. And all day today, while the city struggled, the people of Georgia went out into the streets, onto the frozen freeways, bringing water and food and blankets and medicine and god knows what else to those who didn't get home last night. Who might not be home still. Bless them all. Shining examples of humanity doing what it does best. I'm not a Southerner, but I can tell you I've never been prouder to be living here.

Carry on, all y'all. I love you even more than I did before.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Starting A Little Jewelry Family

I've been talking about it and talking about it, and now I think maybe it's actually going to happen..

I recently met with two women, one whom I'm guessing is reasonably close to my own age, the other a mere twenty-one  And if all goes well, they both will be involved with Blue Piranha this year. I'm simultaneously excited and nervous, which I think is a very good thing. I haven't felt that slight flutter of nerves in my stomach for a means that I'm doing something that scares me a little, and it's probably about time.

I'm excited, of course, because I may just get the help I need. Which would be amazingly beneficial. It's the end of January and already I'm feeling the pressure of being behind, staring down the enormous mountain of things that need to be done - simultaneously, it seems - and starting to freak out that I won't make my goals and dreams a reality. Already?? Yeesh.

Having another set of hands (or better, two more sets) to help out would be wonderful, and the older woman at least knows her way around fabrication, so I shouldn't have to train her on everything (because anyone who reads this blog knows how long it took me to train myself). The question will be whether or not she can produce to the level that I need, and produce the quality of work that I expect. We're going to do a sample "finishing run" this week to see how that aspect goes.

So that's all good. What I'm nervous about is the youngster. Because she has had some jewelry instruction, but is really probably pretty green. And having her in the studio will likely require some mentoring on my part. I don't mind that at all...but still, it's nerve-wracking. Mentor?? Some days I feel like I hardly know what *I'm* doing, much less know enough to teach someone else. But I have been thinking about having help for a while, and that has led to thinking about what that kind of help could / would do, and how to best facilitate the helper in doing it. So maybe I have more of a game plan than I think I do (which would be a pleasant surprise).  :)

We met today at 1:30, for three hours...and she left a little after 6...saying, "We talked for FIVE hours!". I told her, "Get used to it.". I am not a high talker or a low talker...ah, Seinfeld, we miss ya...but I am FAST talker. And when I'm talking about jewelry? Gemstones? Design? The biz and anything related to it? Then I'm also what you might call a long talker. :)

My goals for my young apprentice-type helper are twofold:

1. She will get some solid and consistent skills into her repertoire. I am by no means a master in my field, but I can at least give her a platform for the basics. She's kind of in the position I was about two years ago, having taken some instruction and worked on jewelry in classes, but no prolonged / physical practice in her own studio. And right now she doesn't have the means for her own studio, but she can at least have regular weekly access to the torch in mine. That alone will start growing her skills.

2. Some of the things she will work on will be her own designs, and some will be my designs. Hopefully this will free up some of my time to expand my own skills and bring new ideas to life (which I've been really itching to do). There's so much involved in creating art jewelry that has nothing to do with designing, and I would love to start handing these tasks over to her as she gets more competent.

For example, I use jump rings in my chains, bails and connector ends (the ends of earring pieces or bracelet links). Each jump ring gets soldered closed (one skill set) and then a flat space is filed on the jump ring to allow for a larger area of joining to the fabricated jewelry piece (larger join area = stronger join and less chance of breakage). Sawing a flat spot on a jump ring, or even soldering one closed, is no one's idea of a big skill. But being able to do it quickly and consistently? So that there's no solder to clean off afterwards (because you used too much solder) or so that you don't have to re-solder (because you used too little, or it flowed the wrong way, and the resulting join isn't solid)? That is a skill that's worth its weight in a production studio. And it's just one of many. It's not the most exciting part of the work. But it's necessary.

And the most fun part of having a young apprentice-of-sorts is that she's young, eager, intelligent, and has the potential for a long career ahead of her. My one (and only) regret about learning jewelry fabrication is that I didn't start it SOONER. I had opportunities when I was much younger, but I was scared, or otherwise occupied, or involved in a messy relationship...there was always something. And now I wish I had taken that leap at an earlier age, when the eyes functioned better, when my hands and wrists weren't all busted, when my aching body could recover faster, when I hadn't developed the hand tremors...etc. And mentally, I wish I'd started when I was fresher, possibly more full of ideas, more adaptable...though I guess everything works out the way it's supposed to, and I like where I am now. But for someone so young to have the opportunity and drive...I will do whatever I can to mentor and nurture it.  :) 

So wish me luck as I move forward with my ladies...I am hoping that they will help facilitate more free time for me to create more lovely designs to share with you! All for one and one for all! Together we'll hopefully make each other better. Is that kind of sappy? Maybe. Ah, who cares? I'm sort of a sap anyway.  :)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Little Post About Shrinkage

The sum total of today's output (so far). Great oaks from mighty acorns...
My husband tells me that I am an acquired taste...and yes, I am. I'm also not to everyone's taste...but that wasn't always so. Before I became an acquired taste, I was as bland as vanilla ice cream, as palatable as chamomile tea, and probably a lot more well-liked than I am now. Which is not to say that people don't like me...but the more *me* I become, inevitably I seem to be more of an "I don't know about her..." kind of girl. I might take some getting used to. Some people decide they don't like me. And that's okay.

What does that have to do with jewelry? Or the photo above, of the hundreds of tiny metal mosaic pieces I have just cut? Well..a lot, actually...

The very brilliant and perceptive Danielle LaPorte has an excellent post on her blog called, "The Real Reason Some People Are Bad for You" and I utterly agree with her perspective. It's about what we do in response to negativity from others. Go, read it now, and then feel free to share your the meantime, I'll share mine.  :)

This very much touches on the post I wrote here about self-love. I think that if you love yourself, and you're comfortable / happy with who you are, it *does* hurt to shrink. Not that it can't be done from time to time, in order to be graceful, or kind, or considerate of others, yeah, okay, you rein yourself in for a bit. But having to shrink one's self all the time is soul-killing.

And that will also kill a creative's spirit. I can't tell you how many times when people "talk" on some of my online chat groups they post things like, "Well, my husband denigrates my work" or "my family doesn't support me" or "I am not allowed (!!) to do thus-and-such". I have been there, and it's hurtful. It's demoralizing. These women are living small. And I get it (though I hate it); it's hard to live loud and proud when those around you want you to be small...or need for you to be small so that they can feel big. It's a power struggle and the person who shrinks themselves, who denies themselves, loses. Every time.

Now, I'm not saying that every creative should make a career out of what they love. It's risky, it's typically a very up-and-down roller coaster ride of finances, and it requires long, long hours of work to make the creations, then market and sell them. That can be hard on a family. And for every stay-at-home-mom who's "made it" on Etsy or eBay or elsewhere, there are at least a hundred others who don't. Or can't. Sometimes what you love should stay a passionate hobby. You can still create in your downtime from work, on the weekends, when the kids are asleep...there are options for the passionate hobbyist. If you love it, you'll continue to do it, in whatever measure. Unless you are in a relationship(s) where you and your creativity are constantly boxed in, denigrated...shrunken. Then you'll either leave, or give up your passion entirely for as long as you are in that situation.

But sometimes, it becomes more than you expected. My own designing started out as a hobby, and stayed that way, for nearly a decade. In fact, *I* didn't think about turning it into a business; it was Brett who suggested it, and then when I was laid off via a corporate merger in the early aughts, he really pushed me to pursue it. And owning and running my own business has been instrumental in allowing me to stretch and reach and to actually believe in myself (because when things seem impossible, and you're the only person standing up for yourself (because it's your business), you'd damn well better believe in YOU because YOU are the only thing that's going to get you through the rough times). It made me to develop a...shall we say, "stronger" personality so I wouldn't get pushed around. And the stronger part developed into the girl who didn't, who eventually couldn't, just shrink herself and make nice. Instead she stretched and grew and even occasionally roared when she had to. And I think once you do that, and do it long enough that it becomes who you are, you can't go back.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I am working on pushing the mosaic creations further, and as I work on creating bolder, bigger designs. The mosaics get a lot of attention; they sometimes even inspire awe (always very gratifying). But they are not for everyone. They're not the "be happy and play nice" of most of my more gemstone-focused designs. The stone-based pieces say, "Mmm! I like color! I'm a little bold! I don't mind asymmetry!" All true. All good. But there are others who want to adorn themselves with something that's really different. People who are comfortable being different. Who don't worry about what the rest of us think about them. The people who, as Wayne Dyer might say, have broken "from the tribe" and are forging their own paths.

Those are the people I find fascinating. The ones I strive to learn from. The ones I want to design for. They're living life on their own terms and yeah, that might not be to everyone's taste. They might have to grow on you...or maybe they won't. But they don't shrink and they don't worry about being sounds kind of nice, doesn't it?

I want the mosaic designs to be like that. Bold. You might have to consider them, get used to the idea. They might be an acquired taste...and that's totally okay.

As bold as I've far. 

So all those little tiny bits of sterling in the photo above? They're just waiting to become something daring and different and wonderful. And to go to a good home with someone who appreciates their unique-ness.  :) 

Don't shrink yourself. For anyone. Expand, grow, emerge, bloom!  You won't regret it!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Tool Junkie Says No

I went to the jewelery supply recently (and don't think I wasn't happy about silver hanging at ~$20 an ounce!) and while I was there, the man helping me said, "So, do you have all the tools you want now, or are there still more to buy?" (we jewelry people are a bit tool-obsessed). And I said, "Well, I have a good amount, but there's always more to be had. But what I really need is an extra pair of hands in the studio." And he nodded in a way that people who have been in my situation tend to nod...a little sagely, a little sad for me, a little "good luck"-y.  Because they know about being where I am.  :)

I've mentioned before, most recently here, about needing help and working on getting the studio ready for it. There does come a time when one pair of hands is not enough, and last year was quite often like that. Not enough hours to create, not enough strength or stamina in the body that was pushed to - and past - its limits, on many, many days. Not enough time to attend to the other aspects of the business, like social media, expansion, designing for wholesale, etc. etc.

This year I'm aiming to get the help I seriously need. I have two, possibly three people in mind, and will be making some phone calls this coming week to see what's what and who's available, and hopefully a good fit.

Can't wait to find out who! 

I've been dreading this point, but now that I've had some breathing room for a few days, I am really kind of liking the idea of having someone in the studio part time, of teaching someone, of maybe growing a little Blue Piranha family. I think of Todd Reed and his lovely studio:

...and while that's bigger than I am ever likely to get (or to want to get), the fun and the camaraderie in there (yeah, the showroom is nice, but it's the working studio in the back that I'm interested in!) must be awesome. I don't think I'd want to oversee as many employees as he has, but as much as I like being alone here, some company occasionally would be nice and I always find that I learn so much from interacting with others. And I'm happy to share what I can, and maybe mentor someone else along in their career.

So while there are still tools on my list - some I'm really eager to own and start using; I already have designs in my head that can't be implemented without these tools - I will defer them until I can have the time to use them. All things when they're meant to be..

But oh, am I ever looking forward to the coming year! I'm starting back at the work table today with several things already on my plate, and I'll see what (or who!) the Universe brings to me as I move forward. I can't wait!!  :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What's Your Announcement?

I'm feeling grateful for the internet today. I came across this again recently online (it was a Nike ad from years ago) and thought it very appropriate as we start a new year:

"You are born. And oh, how you wail! Your first breath is a scream. Not timid or low, but selfish and shattering, with all the force of waiting nine months under water. Your whole life should be like that: An announcement."

Do not hide yourself. Live loud and proud. Life is so much better when you do...

It has taken me years - literally, a lifetime - to be comfortable with this. To accept me. To accept me even when others tell me I am not enough, I do not do enough, I cannot give them what they want or need from me. I can only give what I can give...and I must tend my own needs as well or live a very unhappy life.

I don't often get "up close and personal" on this blog, but I do feel compelled to share things I feel very strongly about. And lately the subject of being happy with one's self has really been in focus for me. I have two good friends who seem to be struggling mightily with this and it hurts me to see them hurting. I have been there. I have struggled, feeling like I could not break away from my unhappiness. I thought it was part of me...I thought I was born with it. But I was not. It was a burden I carried but a few years ago I finally - finally - was able to release it. And when I did, that was one of the happiest days in my life. It was like I found the key to unlock the door and step out of my was earth-shattering and life-changing.

And I'm hoping mightily that the people I know, (and those I don't know) who are also struggling, will find their own keys to happiness. That they can claim a measure of peace that they so deserve...that we all deserve.  That they, some of whom are you, my loyal supporters, my fellow jewelry-makers, the wonderful, funny, amazing souls who do not see all their strange, awesome, individual wonderfulness - manage to find joy. It's there, out in the Universe, waiting for you to accept accept be able to choose happiness. Don't be afraid of "doing the work", as my therapist says. It's messy and painful and scary but I PROMISE that it's so much better on the other side...amazingly better than you'd ever believe. Whatever it takes to get you there - therapy, self-help books, leaving behind what you know to move forward, moving, divorcing (or conversely, committing)...whatever it takes to find acceptance and it.

Make your announcement happy, bold, inspiring, joyful, triumphant...whatever form your own happiness takes. It doesn't mean that the whole world will love you. Or even like you, necessarily. But that ceases to matter when you truly love yourself. You'll be okay with you...and that's what matters.

Wishing you a wonderfully HAPPY 2014!!!