Friday, October 28, 2005

Shrug It Off

The original vision, that is.

I finally have some photos of my latest design endeavor. Its still in progress. Here's where I started:
I'm using Plassard's Symphonie. Its a self-striping yarn and I had hoped to creating striking stripes by knitting on the bias.

In the beginning, this was to be a big rectangle and I was just going to sew seams for sleeves. Easy peasy. A nice 2 skein project for those want to branch out beyond scarves.

Of course, along the way.....

I wanted to do a little shaping and then thought about how this would sit on the body. I didn't want it to look like a scarf turned into two sleeves. And I didn't want it to float around such that the wearer would feel the constant need to rearrange the garment.

The common design response to this is to pick up stitches after the sleeves are seamed. You go from the neck all the way around the body and back to the neck. Then you knit a ribbed edge. I thought about that, but wasn't drawn to the idea. What I really wanted was to have a little bit of ribbing on the upper arms. Like an arm band of ribbing. Ok, try to figure out how to get a non-biased band of ribbing when you're knitting on the bias. I think I was getting close when I abandoned that idea and thought about knitting the body and creating ribbed sleeve caps. You know, a top down body where the sleeeve caps are created before you put them on holders and finish the bottom.

Well, one thought led to another and now I'm knitting this:

Very different from the original vision. This shrug now has bias ribs throughout. Its very stretchy and gives me the cling I was looking for. Don't know it it will go with the sleeve, though. I might have to try the bias stockinette approach again for another project.

Tune in to see how it goes...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Joy, Synergy, Tension

Balancing Community & Business:
The Joy
The Sunday morning circle nurtures my soul. Each week I feel blessed to be surrounded by the magnificent people that comprise our 'church'. This circles exemplifies everything I wanted to experience as a hostess of a creative community. Knitters from beginner to expert sharing their craft, patiently urging each other on and lovingly offering suggestions for improvement. Scientists, librarians, veterinarians, doctoral candidates, IT managers, developers, college administrators, advertising salespeople, lawyers and the list goes on. Many walks of life are represented in the room. And the dialogue is always respectful. As anyone who has ever sat with others to knit knows, the conversations go well beyond casting on and stitch patterns.

Religion, politics, sexuality, relationships, careers are all topics that are woven into the fabric of a knitting circle dialogue. The knitting is our 'warp' and life is our 'weft'. In our Sunday circle I am repeatedly impressed by the ability to traverse such sensitive topics without rancor and full of mutual respect. It is not always without tension. But there is a fierceness around the requirement for respect and compassion - you might even say 'right speech' (wink, wink Alice) - that buys us the patience to let things unfold and see how the fabric is coming out before ripping out all the work done to date. Newcomers are more than welcome and they are guided gently toward a quality of exchange that builds bonds and makes the space - dare I say it? - sacred.

Sunday is the 6th day of my work week. No matter how exhausted I am, though, I cannot miss Sunday circle if I'm in town. As the owner of Circles, the business, the Sunday group is my 'sine qua non.' Sunday and all the circles are what it is all about. I have a passion for knitting. It is my active meditation. But I could knit at home alone. And you don't get a lot of time for knitting when you own a yarn store. The deepest joy comes when I am knitting my life with others.

The creative energy I get from the community feedback loop is immeasurable. So many good ideas and so many willing hands. It takes a village.... Because they feel connected to the people who work here, the feedback is given with genuine care and concern. The business definitely benefits from the embedded community.

When I feel that I have no more time or energy for the next big push that needs to happen at Circles, I can turn to the community for assistance. Need to plan a 2nd Anniversary celebration? Invite the community to a planning meeting and 10 people show up ready to get this thing going. Because they understand the need to have Circles succeed financially, they enthusiastically look for ways to make the day both joyous and profitable. The synergy of business and community is more than the sum of the two individual things.

The challenge is being the driver of both. Right along with the joy and the synergy are the moments when I feel pulled between the two entities I have birthed.

The social circles are open to all. Bring your project, whatever it is, no matter where you bought your materials. It is inspiring to see what's out there. But more than that, no knitter should have to bring only a part of their knitterly self. The circle would be a contrived experience if it were a requirment that you only work on projects purchased from Circles. It would change everything in the nature of the sharing; the feeling that you can be fully open at Circles.

The 'Visionary Philosopher' in me holds on hard to these ideals. Sometimes the "Pragmatist' in me is challenged to sit back and stay off the Social Circle Committee and have a little faith in the vision.

How does that vision feel when someone enters the circle perpetually bringing projects purchased elsewhere? Oddly enough that doesn't tweak the 'Pragmatist'. Not until said person keeps demanding technical assistance throughout the circle. A constant need for attention from everyone else, without noticing that people want to work on their own projects. And the 'Pragmatist' is even more tweaked when the technical assistance is desired because the pattern purchased elsewhere is far beyond the beginner knitter's skill level and the knitter can't get support from the shop where the purchase was made. Even more tweaked when the pattern has errors that require this shop owner to practically rewrite the pattern. How far can you push the 'Pragmatist' before she turn the committee table upside down and kicks everyone else off and takes over?

The answer is yet unknown. Certainly, there is an inner discourse that is heated. Yet, the beauty of the community is this: someone else usually points out that the circle is being abused before I have to. A solid voice from the corner says, "You know, there's probably a reason she doesn't sell that company's pattern. Perhaps you should buy one from Circles if you're going to need so much help." And that is enough.

Or sometimes, the one pushing the 'Pragmatist's' alarm button, gets it on her own. Like the time I spent an hour helping a customer pour through books for the perfect shawl pattern. She finds the perfect shawl but says she has to wait until next week to buy the book. Next week she pulls the book out of her bag and says, "I couldn't wait, so I bought it somewhere else closer to work." Just as "Visionary Philosopher" is peeling the "Pragmatist" off the walls and getting out restraining belts, said customer sees the faces of the others in the room, realizes how ungracious she's been and says, "You know, I think I'll buy that beautiful hand-dyed yarn after all." Ahhhhhh.

It isn't the behaviour of any community members that lead to the worst tension. Its that ever-elusive resource of time. With the open sitting room available during all store hours, it can be challenging to find time in the back office where the relentless work of keeping the engine running has to happen. Going over cash flow reports, ordering inventory, checking ad copy, answering emails, composing the weekly (well, almost) marketing email, cleaning the bathroom, writing patterns, writing a book (oh yes, just another little project in the works), developing new programs, creating a class/workshop/event schedule over and over and over....

When the shop is slow I might take advantage of that time to get something done in the office. What do if someone parks themselves in the sitting room? If there are two people, I am more comfortable leaving them talk amongst themselves. But if it is one, the hostess in me says it is rude to leave the person alone. She comes for connection. If she wants to be alone, she would have stayed home. Often, this person has something important weighing on their heart. They are seeking a sympathetic ear. They need to hear their dilemma out loud. They need to see a caring reflection in your eyes. I cherish these moments. I know that I have created what I set out to create when people come here for centering. Especially when it is not a designated time for a social circle. And I did create this. Being the creator obligates you to a certain responsibility (read Shelley's "Frankenstein" for an interesting diatribe on the impact of the creator abandoning, even resenting his creation.) so, I am inclined to sit and knit and listen and offer what I can. Simple things like allowing someone to be where they are - exhilarated, bleak, confused - not trying to fix it, simply accepting it so she can accept it and have a grounded place from which to move.

Meanwhile, I'm not getting the business done. And the business does have to be financially sustainable to support a space to host a community. They are inextricable. Finding the appropriate action at the appropriate time that ensure that both are supported is the single greatest tension point I experience. It rips at my heart. Failing at either is a personal failure. At my worst, the tension feeds into self-loathing. I pelt myself with accusations of worthlessness. At my best, I breathe and ask for the grace to wend my way through it all.

And really, that's the quest: a bit of grace.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Promises and the Chaotic Life

So, I promised a post on my current design adventure. Well, its hard to post about a design in process without photos. When I started this blog, I knew that I would need to learn how to post photos and I finally did figure it out. I then realized that I needed to get into the habit of taking lots of digital photos. So, last week, I spoke to my staff, rallying us all to keep the camera handy and shoot, shoot, shoot. Only to realize that we can't find the camera. Ugh....

The last person to use the camera knows exactly where she put it, but its not there. It resides in a nice leather bag with a charger, a spare battery, a little tripod, etc. So, its not as though its a tiny little thing that could be tucked just anywhere. Was it stolen? Or is it somewhere in Circles we haven't looked yet?

In some ways, it doesn't matter. We needed the camera to be in use already. Stolen or misplaced, Its just another little thing that thwarts progress.
And this is what its like. So many balls in the air and I'm, apparently, not a master juggler. All these little things are the frustrations of being a small business owner. The printer won't print, can't find the camera, out of toilet paper, a glass vase shatters all over the yarn room.... Doesn't matter the day, an army of little things launches a war against your cause. The "to-do" list grows and the papers take over your office. Like any vibrant child, a business brings chaos to the most obsessive, compulsive lives. This one is no exception.

How do I keep going? Faith. And an ever growing realization that perfection and impeccable organization are not required for success. Perhaps a personal assistant. But many a successful person has been full of persoal shortcomings. I only beginning to allow myself to accept that my shortcomings don't mean failure. Besides, a lot of creativity is coming out of all this chaos.

Recently I pondered two of the metaphysical theories of how the universe was created. (Ok, i'm the type who ponders these things all the time.) One says that in the beginning there was a metaphysical being and that being created everything out of itself. Another says that in the beginning there was chaos and this metaphysical being created order out of the chaos. From the second version comes the belief that chaos is evil. Having had chaos imposed upon me by someone else, I can wholeheartedly buy into the concept that chaos is evil. Yet, if I reconsider the order out of chaos theory, I realize that the ultimate act of creativity came out of the ultimate state of chaos. If that's the case, there is a pentultimate amount of creative potential in my life!

So, as a creative response to the missing camera, I'll post about something else until I resolve how I will get photos onto the blog. Next time: some of the joys, synergies and tensions in my two roles as shop owner and community hostess.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ownership, Overjoyed, Overwhelmed

After posting about the inspiration behind opening Circles, it seems balancing to write about some of the reality of owning a business. There is the joy of having a vision manifested into reality. There is the contentedness of sitting in the social circles. There is the creative stimulation that leads to ideas, ideas, ideas.

And then there is the ever-expanding To Do List. From seeking out and ordering inventory, to shop presentation, to keeping up with marketing emails and campaigns, to bookkeeping and bathroom cleaning and staff training and managment, the list goes on and on and on. The feeling that most often arises in me is one of overwhelm.

Today I spent the entire day trying to correct link errors in a marketing email that I sent yesterday. It wasn't as simple as sending a follow up email with correct links. It turns out that my web site is case sensitive. Who knew? I had to scour all the pages of the web site to find the links that weren't in the proper case.

Then I found out that my new initiative to engage people in our Referral program doesn't work. We had tested it, but somehow now a file is missing. A CGI/Perl program file that I don't know how to write. And the person who did the original work is no longer available to me. So, I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out if this was something I could do myself. Bye, bye Thursday.

Why don't I just hire someone? Welcome to a micro-business. I don't have the money to hire someone for each of the areas of the business that I have to attend to. I'm sure that I could run a multi-million dollar business. That seems easy. You have assistants. You have accounting departments, IT departments, marketing departments, maintenance departments, purchasing departments. Sure, there's pressure from the board and the stockholders. Lots of meetings. Everybody needs your attention. But if I could focus my energy on holding and developing a vision, looking down from the top and pointing out ways to improve systems, mentoring people, providing inspiration, solving macro problems...If I did not have to order cups, clean toilets, fix the web site, manage the cash flow, train staff, teach, sell, merchandise. That company would hum. But, alas, I'm a micro-business (with high hopes of growing beyond that) and I have to sweat every detail every day.

Of course, I didn't lose Thursday just because of the troublesome links. My daughter has been sick and home from school all week. She hasn't been sleeping well. So, I haven't been sleeping well. Now, I'm not feeling well. It didn't take long after I opened Circles to realize how inane it was to do this when I have a young child. People who have children can't believe I can pull it off at all. Many of those who don't seem to think I am simply lacking the ability to manage my life. I admit that I didn't understand until I had my own child how utterly relentless and unpredictable parenting is. (How could I have known that my daughter would start having Grand Mal Seizures one month after opening my business?)

It is worth it. It is the most rewarding job I've ever had. The way she can make me laugh when I'm frustrated. The fascination of watching her develop. And the non-stop loving affection. She's a joy to be with.

Circles, my other child, is worth it, too. People who have never owned a business have a hard time understanding how relentless and unpredictable it is. It is so far from the 9to5 job that you can leave behind. There simply is no paycheck if you're not driving the business. Still, my heart sings when I see people connecting in the Sitting Room. Or watch someone go from saying they are uncoordinated and "probably can't do this" to knitting their first hat. I am inspired with design ideas and book ideas. I feel very supported by the community of knitters that is growing along with Circles. I have long felt tribe-less, as my birth family has a long history of being detached. With Circles, I feel the presence of a tribe. I feel seen and am willing to be seen. Being seen, I feel accountable. I feel responsible for creating something that now means a lot to a great many people. I don't want to fail because I will let down my two best friends, without whom I would not have manifested this adventure, and this vibrant community. It will simply be tragic to turn the Circles community into a diaspora. I have to make it succeed.

I have to learn to ask for the right kind of help in a timely, meaningful manner. I need better systems for some parts of the business. I need a more efficient way to get samples onto the shop floor. I need to create PR activity. I need to continuously generate digital photos. I need to improve the materials for the classes. Oh, so many improvements I can think of....

I have this great idea for a fundraiser. Suzanne has a great idea for an event. These are on my mind a lot lately. How to pull them off.....

Though I lost much of this to teck-i-nickel difficulties, I did in the end get the links corrected for the marketing email and I have launched two blogs. Though my daughter has been sick all week, she blew me two kisses as her dad was putting her to bed tonight . She told me she wants to come to Circles tomorrow and learn how to do finger knitting. She wants to teach other kids to knit someday, she says. Because, "Mommy, I think it is good to teach people knitting together." She's 5 going on 50.

Inspired by her to remember why I do this, I think I'll write about my recent knitting adventures next....

Knit along now.