Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wallow the Leader

Before I can work through any exploration of my role at Circles and whether I can still own a business and host a community, I have to come to terms with my current reality. In my training to be a therapist, Jim Grant called this “Acceptive Empowerment.” It’s akin to realizing that you can’t plot a useful map to Alaska from New York if you insist on believing that you’re in Tahiti. Tahiti may be a nice place to be, but if you’re not really there, the map you create won’t get you to Alaska. The journey will likely be frustrating and self-defeating.

So, where am I? These days, I’m mostly at home. I'm afraid to go out. I’m having a hard time focusing on anything. Since August, I’ve gotten very little accomplished for Circles. Working with my staff, I did manage to set it up so that the business is self-sustaining, though not making money for me and not growing. We analyzed our sales over the past three years and established store hours, a staff schedule, an inventory purchasing system and cash flow management scheme that allows the business to pay its bills with the lowest known volume of sales. While this doesn’t create excitement or a sense of bounty, it relieves a lot of stress about the shop’s stability and assures that business can continue while I back off for a while. Thank heavens for a crew of loyal and reliable staff - Jennifer, Judy and Hannah with backup from Bridgid and Martha.

In slowing down, I’m facing a maelstrom of thoughts generated by emotions. Thoughts can drive you crazy unless you get some perspective. It has taken a while to climb high enough above the thoughts to identify the emotions. Anger. Fear. Confusion. Exhaustion. Sadness. Despair. Loneliness? The question mark is there because while I feel lonely in facing my condition, I also feel surrounded by support. My staff is taking care of the store, the Circles community has not abandoned the ship, and my ex is providing for me. I am being given all the room that I need to attend to my needs. While there is a bit of financial pressure to contribute at home, the only real pressure for me to figure out how to manage my life better is internal.

Getting emotional perspective on the thoughts that plague me is one step along the path of healing and reconciliation (with life.) Still emotions can drive you crazy, too, unless you climb a little higher and get a perspective on them.

Generally, I have a deep abiding faith in the universe. I can’t say that this is a religious faith. I have somehow always had a sense that everything is as it should be and I will make my way. I’ve been able to draw on this inner strength for my entire life. It helps me detach enough from my emotional state to self-reflect and adjust course. Right now, I’m not able to get there. As I try to think about moving Circles along or what else I might do with myself, I can’t get out of the muck of my emotional quagmire. In a moment of Acceptive Empowerment, I need to admit that I’m traumatized.

While I said that I didn’t want violin music, I must also admit to feeling sorry for myself. I resent being sick. I resent being disabled. I resent being dependent. I resent being weak. I resent being vulnerable. I resent my feelings of worthlessness. I resent my feelings of failure. I’m feeling whiny. I’d like to have a good old-fashioned temper tantrum. “Waaahhhh, why me?” “Waaahhh, when does life give me a break?” “Waaahhh, this isn’t FAIR!”

Life isn’t "fair". I know this. Afflictions are often random. (Well, unless you're a Buddhist, which I have some appreciation for.) Temper tantrum or not, I’m not 2. Telling myself this doesn’t stop the flow of emotions, though. I’m not able to get myself to “get over it and figure out what you need to do!” Try as I might, it’s not happening. What do I need to do to move myself through this layer of fog and get a little higher up the mountain of self-reflection? Maybe I need to dive deeper into the pool of self-reflection. I've always found climbing to be easier than diving.

So, why write about all of this here? Clearly my state of being is crippling my ability to lead a business, host a community or even knit creatively. Everything is stagnant. Some leader. Do all leaders have these moments?

Hmmm. Stagnant. Diving in would stir up the waters. Ugh.

Oh, I did finish a sweater recently. (I’ll try to get a photo of it, but the new computer is not compatible with the old camera, so I have a technical challenge.) And I did design a hat for Southwest Trading. So maybe I'm not creatively dead.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Offerings?

The post title "Offerings" has been on my mind for quite a while. Whenever I sit down to type, though, nothing comes out. Which was exactly why this topic is on my mind. I seem to have nothing to offer. This is not a “woe is me” kind of post. It is a self-assessment and expression of my inner experiences. I seek catharsis, not violin music.

In October, I had a conversation with a friend about why I have a blog. I hadn’t really articulated it before. When she asked, I clumsily spit out some thoughts on the matter. The heart of it is this: I don’t seek a readership or to promote my business. Still, I don’t keep a private journal, because if my experiences and my convoluted processes can be of service to even one other person, then it is worth making it available. It is one small offering I can make. For me, living a meaningful life means making offerings.

Even after that conversation, however, I wasn’t able to write. I haven’t been able to do much of anything since my diagnosis in July. I don’t want this blog to become about the details of my health. So, here is a brief update:- I have done the first 3 months of chelation. I don’t feel better. In fact, some symptoms are intensifying. The latest test results showed a decrease in two metals, but a new metal showed up: arsenic. (There is an explanation for this, but I won’t go into it here.) The last appointment with the doc left me despairing. He offered no hope that any of my symptoms would reverse, even if we get all the metals out, and no ideas of how to pro-actively work toward recovery. I am now permanently on an anti-inflammatory that can keep some of the worst symptoms at bay if I pace myself and don’t stress my neurological system. Right now, that means 4 hours a day of physical exertion and/or people interaction.

When you have a 7 year old child and a business, how do you limit yourself to 4 hours a day? I haven’t figured that one out yet. By the end of each day, I’m an ear-ringing, head-throbbing, neck aching, limb burning, hand-tremor-ing, foggy mess trying to service customers and gently guide my child through her early years.

None of it is going well. Two weeks ago my daughter sat next to me and gently said, “I don’t want my mommy to get any sicker than she is.” She’s clearly feeling cheated out of a quality mommy experience.

The day before Thanksgiving, I received a scathing indictment of my character from an anonymous “customer” who claims to represent a group of Circles’ customers. In summary, it said, “Circles would be a good idea if you weren’t there.” The list of grievances were that I am an impatient teacher, I dominate conversations, I am self-absorbed, speak inappropriately about customers and am judgmental. I got the message that this person would not be offering any thanks for my presence in the world the next day. (Funny thing is, I'm not there much right now. It's an odd time to complain about me.)

Anyway, I’m sure that a self-improvement class or two would whip me right into shape.

I know better than to take an anonymous critique too seriously. First, it is cowardly to send an electronic transmission. The author does not have to take responsibility for how her communication impacts me. In fact this author cannot have expected any positive outcome. She mentions no redeeming qualities that I might use to support the massive personality transformation it would take for me to correct all these faults. Second, generalized aspersions are simply one person’s opinion about another's overall character. These kinds of opinions are usually very subjective and reflect more about the emotional make up of the criticizer than the character of the criticized. The email mentioned no specific situations that would allow me to understand how someone might have been offended or misunderstood, etc. There is no window for reconciliation. A communication like this can only serve to undermine someone’s sense of self-worth while also creating a creeping suspiciousness about which customer sent it. With each person who walks into the door I could find myself wondering, “Is she the one?”

I've been around long enough to have heard a few things about myself. I know that one person’s experience is not the totality of how I am perceived. For instance, the next day I was sitting at a Thanksgiving meal when someone mentioned wanting to learn to read music. Another person offered to teach him and he replied, “You can’t teach me. You don’t have any patience.” When I said I could try, he responded, “Now, Allison can teach me. She has patience for days!” In fact, since childhood I have been lauded for my patience and teaching skills. So, I know the critique in the email does not reflect my true nature.

However, it may reflect my current state of being. I have been told that when my symptoms are flaring, my entire countenance is different. I seem detached. Almost not “here”. And I have a furrowed brow. Lately, symptoms have been fairly constant. Any situation that requires me to put out energy is stressful. Once the symptoms get into gear, I’m struggling to be in the world. I’m confused and lost and in pain. It can’t look warm and friendly to any one around me. So, what this email is reflecting for me, is a question I’ve had about what I can offer Circles right now and whether my presence is a detriment to the business and the community.

I will spend the next few days writing about this. I will address different aspects of the critique and how I can imagine someone interpreting me this way. Mostly, I will be processing, in what I hope is a cathartic way, some feelings and thoughts I have about my health as it affects my role at Circles, visions I have for Circles, and visions I have for myself ( be they pie-in-the-sky or fairly humble.) Hopefully, a lot of emotions that are rattling around inside of me, whipping up far flung thoughts, criticisms and desires, will get expressed in such a way that allows me to find a path forward. The goal is to figure out how I can best serve myself, my daughter, Circles and whomever else I’m supposed to serve. See, the reason that I can’t write about offerings is that I’m stuck. I don’t think ‘depressed’ is quite the right word. The more appropriate word might be ‘traumatized.’ More on that in the next post.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sinking in

Or maybe just sinking.

A little update on the health thing. Yes, I have this metal poisoning and we've begun chelation treatment. Some of the damage may be irreversible.

Some have asked why I'm getting poisioned by exposure that other people are not poisoned by. The best I can tell you is the current working theory. I probably got sick from lead - or MS (apparently, that's still what the docs think!) - and this caused damage to my system that has made me vulnerable to what would normally be considered a safe exposure. I may now be 'sensitive'. I'll be working with the docs, an acupuncturist, and others, to see what I can do to reverse this. Currently, their not offering a lot of hope.

Meanwhile, the ramifications are profound. I can't work in my own store. Or, I can't touch the yarns. Which makes it difficult to serve customers. I, also, have to be concerned about sitting on the upholstered furnishings.

I need to consider the future possibilities of me being in this business. As Circles is becoming a co-operative, my presence may not be necessary. Though, many would say that it still is. But I have to consider the physical and emotional toll on me. Right now it's quite painful to be in my shop full of beautiful fibers, watching others touch and work with them, while for me they are a poison.

Either my role at Circles has to change or Circles has to change if Circles is to stay alive and I am to maintain health (or not get worse.) Some options other than me simply changing careers:

1) I become more of a product developer and promoter. I don't work in the shop. I have a presence as the founder/designer and can do some of the planning management, but there is a shop manager. Or the Co-op members run the show. I could retain a role as a visionary guide.

2) Circles become a specialty shop carrying only yarns that are dyed without metals - or that fully disclose the production process. I don't know what's out there, so I don't have a sense of what kind of offering this would look like. But we'd probably have to invest in a decent online store to reach a broad enough customer base to be sustainable. We might also have to develop our own product line. (One person has already suggested that we might alter our mission in El Salvador a bit and teach them to dye yarns with low eco-impact dyes. This could become our own production facility.)

3) There could be some hybrid where one side of the shop - we have two physically separate spaces - is conventional and the other is eco-conscious. I couldn't serve customers on the conventional side.

4) We become a member-driven fiber arts co-operative where people pay a monthly (or annual) membership fee to support the space and the inventory. (The fee can be applied to product purchases and would include benefits.) There might still be a shop open to the public to supplement income and to sell products developed by the co-operative. The focus could be more on a kind of design studio. Creating our own patterns, kits, even yarns or finished garments. Members would manage the business (financial planning, marketing, product development, etc. and would supplement a base staff in the shop). I would simply be another member. Designs that became patterns or kits would be part of the collaborative product development and members would earn money on consignment from the sales of their designs.

I suppose that some of these ideas could be combined. These are my preliminary thoughts. I'm emotionally overwrought right now and am just trying to get some ideas out. I'm nowhere near a decision-making state of mind. Circles, as a concept is in my blood and it's hard for me to imagine letting it go. Circles, as a reality, is a phenomenal community of support and I couldn't endure the loss of that on top of everything else I'm dealing with. So, somehow, Circles has to go on. Even if I'm a supporting actor in the Circles show. For that to happen, others have to step forward to really grab some of the reins. Great things could happen, though, if even one or two people found themselves compelled to dive in and scoop the keys off the floor off the deep end that I'm sinking into. Besides, I apparently haven't lost the ability to type! I can always contribute business/community ideas and writings for newsletters, PR and products.

I'm putting it out there to the universe: how's this going to work?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Inanity

This is completely out of character. I was perusing my dear Mrs. Hammer's blog and feeling the need for some whimsy, clicked the Tarot card link. I thoroughly expected to get something gloomy.



You Are The Sun

You represent the best of life - vitality, success, and and truth.
You tend to have a strong, centered, balanced personality.
Inspiration and discovery are your fortes. You are very mentally strong.
A talented mind, you tend to excel at math, philosophy, and music.

Your fortune:

As well as you have done in the past, the future is going to be filled with more success.
A new creative project is coming your way. Feed it, and it will grow into something huge.
Great riches, recognition, prosperity, or happiness is coming your way.
And it's possible that a fantastic vacation, or a new baby, is coming sooner than you think.


Well, I'll take any pick-me-ups at this point...
But I probably won't put any more of this silly kind of thing here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Whoa!

Though I've mentioned that I haven't been well here, it had been my plan to avoid discussing my health. I simply didn't want to get sidetracked from my musings on the subjects for which I created this blog. Little did I know that it wouldn't be OT, as they say in i-land. (off-topic, that is.)

I've been suffering from an array of neurological symptoms - physical and cognitive. After nearly a year of testing and one hospitalization, most of the practioners involved were inching closer and closer to telling me that I had MS. I've spent the better part of the year coming to terms with that possibility. About a month ago, another possibility was presented to me. It was suggested that I do some more tests just to rule it out. I did the tests, but really didn't think seriously about what a postive result would mean. Much less 4 positives.

It looks like I don't have MS. I should be pushing out a big, "Phew!" But what I do have is actually more life shattering for me. I have toxic levels of 4 heavy metals.

Okay, so I started a treatment to pull these metals out of my body. So far, so good. No big deal. Except that the common sources for these 4 metals are pigments and mordants for textiles. I'm absorbing them through my skin which is more toxic than ingesting them. Apparently, my liver isn't flushing them out of my system. Most livers do. Is there a reason my liver doesn't? I don't know. Frankly, I lost the ability to take in information once the doc said, "you need to find a different outlet for your creativity." Having only met me once before, he has no idea of the profundity of that directive.

This isn't simply an outlet for my creativity. It's the basis of my livelihood. My life's vision is infused with it. More than that, it has been a spiritual and healing practice. The beauty and symbolism of color has been a fundamental piece of that work. My chosen modality for healing has been killing me.

I'm sure there are adjustments I can make so that I can still knit. I'm not ready to think about that (post ideas and resources on our forum, not here, thank you.) Right now, I'm in a bit of a spiritual crisis. And the one thing that I usually pick up to work through that is toxic to me. (I did start working on a natural alpaca piece, so I know it's not totally lost) Really, I can't work in my own store. I can't touch the vast majority of the yarns and I don't think it will be condusive to sales if I walk around with rubber gloves on.

The business is in a fragile state of transition and I need to attend to my own health. As each day goes by since this diagnosis was given to me, I realize that I need to take a break. I have to focus on getting undyed sheets and how I'm going to replace furniture, rugs, towels, etc. I need to give my body some energy to recover. (I do hope treatment will mean the end of the tingling and burning in my extremities!)

I need to figure out how Circles can survive while I make sure that I do, too.

I need to come to terms with what my choice of passion has done to me. I have followed my heart and it has taken me here. I need to go deep down for some visions of how to assimilate all of this and set out on a new path forward.

I still need to cry. Why haven't I cried?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Battered. Cake anyone?

It's been a while since I've written here. I last spoke of doing; not reflecting. There has been some doing. A lot of that doing is hobbled by my personal health. Still, things are moving.

Yet, without doing some amount of reflecting, I can lose the wide-angle sight of what is meaningful while I focus my narrow lens on the tasks at hand. I suppose I need to find a balance. Losing sight means flying blind. Flying blind means running into things or being blindsided. A wise bird adjusts her focal lens before she's battered beyond recovery.

Obviously, I've been blindsided. I'm chugging along with my not-so-little to do list, in the not-so-abundant hours that I'm even functional when I am slapped upside the head with the reality that I have neglected to see the next growing pains in the community staring me right in the face.

Community is an abstract thing. It's difficult to pinpoint what each of us mean by 'community.' Or to articulate exactly what we expect community to provide for us. Or us it.

Still, we have, in the past two and half years, created community at Circles. There have been many expressions of appreciation for the space to come to, the technical and creative knitting and life support, and the social connections that enrich our lives. I believe, that at the heart of this is that word 'connections". What seems to make people feel like we are a community is the complex networks of connections: both within ourselves, amongst ourselves and through ourselves to the greater world.

If creating community is about connections, then the antithesis, the destruction of community, is about disconnecting. If what people appreciate is the connection, how do they feel if they perceive the connection is severed?

Periodically, we have members of our community who become indisposed for one reason or another: they might have had a baby, or surgery, or are recovering from an injury or an emotional trauma. We miss these people during the time that they can't come to Circles. But, as we're a large enough group that the absence of one person may not be noted without dramatically diminishing our enjoyment of the community, the person who is missing may have lost all physical contact with the community. Relatively, the loss is far more profound for the individual who can't come.

As the size of the community grows, the gap between the loss the group feels versus the loss that the individual feels only grows. As social creatures, we crave connectedness. Connectedness is the opposite of loneliness. There is no loneliness more painful than feeling lonely when there are people all around you.

How can you feel lonely with people all around you? (You don't really have to ask, do you?) Imagine sitting in a room full of people. They are conversing and enjoying themselves. You, meanwhile, are on the verge of tears. No one notices.

A friend told me the perfect comment for this situation: "Uh, hello, just pretend that I'm here. Okay?"

I had this experience recently. I sat quietly amongst a group feeling painfully sad and on the verge of tears. They didn't notice. I left the room for a bit and came back composed. Well, for a while anyway.

But this wasn't the blindsided part. I was blindsided by the realization that someone else in the community was experiencing this type of loneliness on a constant basis within the community. And then felt like a non-entity when she couldn't be at Circles and no-one was reaching out to her. The resulting despair was insufferable. I hadn't paid enough attention to how much she was suffering. It took a 'flap', as she called it, for me to refocus and see the forest for the trees.

If I've experienced it and she's experiencing it, we're probably not the only ones. How often is this happening for people? If its happening when people are here, how connected are people feeling when they can't be here? How can we prevent, or at least minimize this? How much do we care?

That's at the bottom of it: how much do we care? We, the community. But the community is comprised of individuals. Unless a critical mass of individuals cares (through actions), then we don't have a rich enough network of connections to keep the community cohesive. I can't manifest enough caring alone to buoy hundreds of people.

The work has to be both on the community level and on the individual level. The actions have to manifest in two directions: each individual has to express her needs - which are different than feelings - to the community and the community has to proactively check in about individual needs and be willing to take action when possible.

So, what have I done? Did I express my needs during that conversation that had me nearly in tears? No. I had an internal dialogue that was in turns self-deprecating, then resentful. I could write an impressive list of my emotional history that would detail all the psychology for why I sat there so passively waiting for someone to notice. But the bottom line is that I only extended my own suffering and imbued the room with that energy. I only affirmed that my historical experience was the only possible experience.

Or as I learned in the film "What the Bleep Do We Know", I might have been feeding an chemical addiction to a particular emotion or set of emotions.

I'm struggling, because my health is exacerbating my personal weaknesses, to feel useful and to have faith that I will achieve success in my little business experiment. Self-doubt is gnawing at the trees of my soul to build a dam across the river of my spirit. I needed a neon sign that said, "Ego failure in process. Need ICU."

What if I had said, "Pretend I'm here?" Or something more direct like, "I need a lot reassurance today?" The result certainly wouldn't have been worse than the prolonged agony I wallowed in. At a minimum, if I didn't get a satisfactory response, I would then know exactly the status of our relationship and could make some choices about that. But perhaps, just perhaps, those people weren't trying to abandon me. Perhaps they were simply caught up in their experience. Perhaps they would have even done something like, oh, I don't know, honor my feelings once they were known. Even help me feel better. I wouldn't want to risk that.

The point is, this tricky business of community, with its complex network of connections has far too many energy centers at any one time to expect that our emotional needs will get noticed in the cacophony if we don't speak up. If I don't believe that my needs are important enough to vocalize, why should I expect anyone else to think they're important? Simultaneously, it can be disheartening to feel that noone is connecting to you enough to notice your needs without you articulating it verbally, which can be intimidating within a group. So, the reach has to be in both directions.

We each have to be willing to risk the vulnerability of public disclosure. Reach out for help. And the group has to exercise self-preservation by paying attention to and offering a hand.

Do the individuals in our community value the community experience enough to explore what it needs to do for self-preservation? How can we proactively make sure that we aren't missing the fact that someone is feeling hurt? How can we help someone who feels disenfranshised become re-enfranchised? What are the limits of our capacity for this? How do we balance the need to attend to people with the need to simply have a safe place to get away from a world of people 'needing' us so that we can relax and enjoy ourselves?

As the hostess of this community, I need to ask, "When does the responsibility for community cohesion move beyond me?" I need more people to commit to community cohesion.

I submit this theory: that thriving communities have explicit paths for conflict resolution.

Oh! There it is. The dreaded word. Conflict. Or is the dreaded word 'confrontation.' Well, no matter. They both start with 'c.' And they both seem to put the fear of death into a room full of people faster than an open vial of the black plague. (Yeah, yeah, these days it's the bird flu.)

But there you have it. When people walk into a room, inevitably conflicts arrive with them. The more people and the more often they congregate, the exponentially more potential for conflict. So, to be a community, we have to accept that reality and figure out what to do with it. I believe conflict resolution channels and pro-active outreach are called for.

That's a lot to ask of a bunch of folks that just came to sit down and knit. Will they rise to the challenge and share the burden?

We'll see. I'll have to review in a few months how I'm feeling about hosting a community. Right now I'm feeling battered. Anybody want to help make cake out of this mess?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Themeless in the Prattle

I've tried several times to post. Usually, I start typing and a theme emerges. Not this week.

A couple of times I have been speaking with people at the shop about posting here and I have had a theme arise in the conversation. Each time I get back to the computer, I can't recall what I was going to write about.

What's going on? I think there is so much going on in that black hole of electrical storms that I call a brain, that I can't sort through them.

Speaking of electrical storms and the rapid bursts of intensity that they create, I am reminded of a conversation with a friend in the industry. We were talking about how yarn stores around the country are doing. Who's doing well, who's not and why. My friend confirmed what several other sources had told me: shops that have event after event after event, with celebrity instructors (yes, there are knitting celebrities) and a relentless stream of excitement, are the ones thriving.

Oh my.

Now, don't get me wrong. Events are fun. I enjoy them. And I actually enjoy planning them. What strikes me as odd, though, is that knitting has the intrinsic value of creating a state of meditation. Of calming the knitter and reducing stress. Yet, for a yarn store to thrive it has to provide exciting stimulation. A constrant stream of knitting caffeine. (No, I'm not getting back to the coffee thing again!) Another of life's paradoxes.

Meanwhile, I'm overstimulated by all that I want to accomplish with Circles. Community ownership, a pattern collaborative, book publishing, Circles' project kits, more support of farmers and artisans, more travel, more creative inspiration, more connection, more, more, more.....!!!! With all these visions spinning around in my head, I feel like one of those spinning tops. Its exhilirating to watch them whirl. The colors blur into magical designs and you feel yourself pulled into another dimension. Then they fall over and play dead. You'll only respin that thing so many times until you're tired of giving it that boost. Then you find something else to do.


I've been spinning with excitement and this week I fell over. This is a time when its critical that I focus on the tangible tasks at hand and put the future vision on hold. Otherwise none of the visions will ever manifest. For now I'll have to focus on keeping the class and event schedule for the next six months vibrant. The other thing to keep my attention is our big transition to community ownership.

I haven't felt that I've had anything at all eloquent to say in the past two weeks and that has stopped me from posting. Eloquence requires a certain detachment, a bit of reflection. Perhaps there isn't time for reflection right now. It might just be a time for doing. So, let's see how I do.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Not Your Hostess Cupcake

Some days are ugly. Not because of the weather. or something anyone else does. Not because I've come down with a cold. Just because, on that day, for some reason, my inner ugliness decides to have a public stroll. Usually, I do something that is, shall we say, self-destructive to launch the whole affair. When the launch is completed and I have landed squarely in the valley of self-loathing, its all over for anyone who comes into my path.

To keep things in perspective, I'm not cutting myself or going on drinking binges, or anything. I'm not punching anyone or screaming expletives. So, why am I writing about this here? Because my life is a bit public and my ugly days are, perhaps, more public than some. I am the hostess of a community. I espouse to want to generate connection. I seek even the faintest bit of grace in life. So, my ugly days are framed squarely on the wall of the community experience as the epitome of what I hope to reduce in the world. My hyprocisy is there for the viewing. My feelings of shame are magnified.

Grace isn't something you build up a savings of and draw upon until you can make another deposit. It is fleeting. You are blessed with a moment of it and you can only hope to see another. You can't rest on your laurels. The fact that we had a day full of grace on a Saturday, didn't have any bearing on the following Thursday. You might be asking yourself, "So, what happened? Spill it already!"

Last Thursday I drove my daughter to school and witnessed another child being mean to her. She was confused and hurt and I scooted her on by and ushered her into her classroom. In the time that it took to get her to her locker, hand her off to the teacher and run into the other child again, the protective Mother Lion in me had risen. I quietly, but intensely told that child that my daughter didn't understand what was going and that it would be best if he would be nice about it.

Probably just should have spoken to the teachers. My daughter reported to me later that day that the same child chased her around the playground screaming, "I hate you", until she cried.

Meanwhile, I ran a few errands and was stopping to get some lunch. My intention upon entering the food establishment - which was an ice cream parlour - was to get soup. I left with a decaf chai and a chocolate dipped peanut butter cookie. (Could I be poisoning myself as punishment for approaching that child?) Needless to say, my behavior did not improve as the day went on. I was wired for sound. Lots of it pouring out of my non-stop mouth.

Being a Thursday, we had our Thursday night Social Circle. I probably shouldn't have socialized. Because I wasn't that sociable, really. I was edgy. Nothing but sugar and caffeine since about 7am. It wasn't pretty. I wasn't gracious. I was tenaciously righteous with a dose of not-so-passive aggressiveness. Ellen, please forgive me.

Ellen, rather innocently mentioned that she had visited a yoga retreat center and that she felt it improved by the fact that they now serve coffee.

Imagine. Here I am wired on sugar and caffeine, having aimed a little power display at a 6 year-old earlier in the day and now, as a hostess, I'm going to stick my claws into the hypocrisy of coffee at a yoga retreat. And stick, and stick and stick. Oh, the layers...

Its not that there isn't validity to questioning coffee at a yoga retreat. Its that I couldn't keep my mouth shut, or just say me peace and let it go. Saying your peace means being at peace. I guess its obvious that I wasn't.

Even if there is merit in debating the presence of coffee at a yoga retreat, there is a way to do that which is neutral. I feel in retrospect that my continual return the topic wasn't just about the retreat center. After all, Ellen doesn't control their policies. She simply stated her opinion of them. So, was I really attacking her opinion? More layers.

It is clear that my behavior was not warranted and that I owe Ellen and the Thursday night circle an apology. Its also clear that I might want to avoid sugar/caffeine lunches and get some real nourishment in my system. This little act of self-destruction isn't new, though and it will probably take years more introspection to eliminate it from my personality.

In the meantime, I'm public. These transgressions are public. I'm scrutinized. Sometimes harshly. Does my inability to be the perfect Hostess Cupcake on a daily basis mean that I shouldn't host a community? Is it simply too hyprocritical to promote the idea of connection to one another if I'm capable of moments where I'm more connected to my inner demons than the people I'm supposedly communing with? Is it unpardonable that I would cause discomfort to another in a group setting?

I wrestle with these questions all the time. While I strive to improve my behaviors, I know that being in the public eye pushes me along. Also, I tell myself that my imperfection lets others know that they can be embraced without being perfect. I recite to myself my favorite Rumi poem:

Come, come whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is not a caravan of despair
Though you have broken your vows a thousand times
Come, come again.

I'll continue to wrestle and hope that I'm an acceptable hostess as I continue to receive admonitions and even rejections. And in my better moments, I'll look around and receive the virtual embraces of the wonderful people who grace the doorstep at Circles.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Day of Grace

[please note: this post is addressed to the community here at Circles. They are the "you" to whom I refer.]

I'm sure I've mentioned that I don't like to have sales.

The theory behind the "sale" mechanism is that you either move along products that love your shelves too much, or you generate a burst of cash.

In my experience, sales with these motivations simply feel bad. To achieve these ends I really have to promote the sale to the widest possible audience. People wait for the sale. When sale day arrives that anticipation leads to a ferocious feeding frenzy. People come who never shop here at any other time. They don't care about the shop, the staff or the other customers. They just want a deal. In a yarn store, where the purchases can require a lot of technical assistance, it can be downright ugly. It drains my soul and whether the customers realize it, it drains theirs, as well.

Financially, its not worth it. A lot of inventory goes out of the store without generating enough cash to replenish it and pay the bills. It can feel like a lot of money in the moment, but it only lasts a moment. Then sales for the next few weeks are slow and cash flow anxiety is even angstier than before. It feels a bit like an addictive cycle. I no longer do sales.

Well, not for those reasons. I believe the best reason to have a sale is to celebrate and/or appreciate. I hadn't tested how a sale with that motivation would feel until this weekend:

I was prompted to have a sale for two reasons. First, I am overwhelmingly warmed by the support I am receiving from you during our big tranformation to community ownership.

But honestly, I didn't feel that I had done a good enough job promoting the Farmhouse Yarns Trunk Show. It felt important to generate a great turnout to maximize exposure to Carol Martin's meaningful work. The only way I could think to ensure this was to have a surprise sale. Since that also felt like a good way to show you my appreciation, I went for it. On Thursday we announced a sale for Saturday via our email list. We sent a reminder early Saturday morn.

Friday evening, I sat in the store doing a little preparation, wondering if anybody would come. The feeling that all I can do is wait and see is the daily experience of this shop owner. Will they come? While I was wondering, Judy arrived with vibrantly colored flowers for the shop. It felt like a good omen.

Saturday morning, we got a message that Carol had a lambing emergency and would be late. Uh-oh. This is not good. But Jennifer had gotten there early and was already welcoming people. That's a good sign, right? Next a few customers arrived at opening time and left disappointed that they couldn't wait for Farmhouse Yarns. Gulp. Then Judy put out the flowers.

Before we realized it people were streaming in. People who were pleasantly surprised at the the announcement of a sale. The shop was bustling all day and it never felt frenzied. The sitting room was bathed in sunlight. Or maybe it was the glow of the people relaxing there all afternoon. Carol arrived around 1 and set up in the classroom. She put out big baskets of her lovely yarns and lots of knitted samples. Then she set up her spinning wheel. She was warm and open and told wonderful stories while you dug through the baskets and admired her work.

It was beautiful to me because it all felt symbiotic. Carol had a good sales day, but more importantly was inspired by your reception of her. It can be isolating creating products and having little contact with customers. She didn't know that part of our mission is to support farmers and artisans. You all did a good thing with your enthusiasm for what she's doing. Its a challenge in today's market to sell yarns with American grown fibers.

Circles had an excellent day of sales without the nasty frenzy part. Jennifer, Judy and I thank you for making it a relatively smooth day for us. It seemed like there were a lot of very happy people going home with beautiful yarns to be entertained and stimulated by for many, many hours.

The sale was very successful. Circles did a good bit of business, but what really made the day wonderful was the presence of Carol Martin spinning yarn and sharing her stories, people appreciating her mission, people sharing with each other in the sitting room and a general feeling of joy throughout the day. I felt the balance that makes Circles what I had hoped - a myriad of connections leading to a little bit of grace. It made my heart sing.

So, thank you all for participating and supporting this little experiment - both the one on Saturday and the ongoing one that is Circles. Especially as we move ahead into completely uncharted waters. I can't do it without you.

And a special big thank you to the staff at Circles who are hanging in there, too. They continue to give a lot of energy to Circles - both me and you - for that little retail pay check that is sometimes late. Where would we be without them? Judy, Jennifer, Bridgid, Alexis, Liz, Martha - I am blessed to have you all in my life.

May we continue to experience a little grace now and then.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Reluctance or Revolution

People get an odd chuckle out of the title of this blog. It is tinged with a bit of confusion. What's the reluctance?

Its not the retail per se. I've always had a hard time "selling". I prefer to serve than to sell. The difference is not subtle. The question is whether one can be successful in business without "selling". Skeptics say no.

What do I mean by serve rather than sell? Semantics become important when articulating something like this. I am using the word sell as an action where the "sale" is the be all and end all. It is not qualified by anything except the dollar signs on the cash register. There are people who are masterful sellers. They can get you to gladly (at least in the moment) part with your last dollar for a plastic toe ring when you are in a desert dying of thirst and you know the next person you see will have a bottle of water to sell.

In the study of economics there is no value system other than increasing the digits after the $ sign. An economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $4trillion is better than an economy with a GDP of $3trillion. Full stop. Even if the $4trillion dollars is completely comprised of the sales of exploding vanilla wafers and the $3trillion dollars is comprised of the sales of a food that prevents cancer. Though the development of economic measures that assess the quality of goods and services exchanged and the quality of life achieved has been discussed in academic/intellectual circles for at least 3 decades, there has been little progress in implementing any such thing that influences our economic choices.

We are so trained to value the exchange of dollars for any sake without any value assessments, that we have come to believe that it is all that matters and that it is all that you have to focus to create a success . Sell, sell, sell. On a macro level, who cares if there are 3 million little broken plastic toe rings in homes, gutters, landfills? Money was exchanged. Hurrah! On a micro level, who cares if you couldn't really afford that $200 shirt and aren't buying groceries this week? We made a sale!

Now, certainly, to have a successful business you must generate more sales than expenses. You have to pay the rent and pay your vendors. You won't last long if you don't. Like everybody else, I would like to have a financially stable, somewhat comfortable life. I need to support my daughter and be concerned about my own well being. The question for me is the ethic or deep inner ecology of how you get there and how far you think you need to go. The toe ring in the desert example speaks to what I mean about how you get there. How far you need to go is another aspect of the ecology of business.

In any financial class you take, you are likely to learn about the expectation of net profit growth. That is, a successful business is that shows a constant increase in profits. An increase that is greater than the general economic inflation rate. It is not good enough to achieve profitability and just hold that profitibility. If your company earned $1M in profit this year, the shareholders expect you to top that next year. Perpetually. What is the ecology of this model? There is no organism in a healthy ecological model that has perpetual growth. When growth is too rapid, the organism dies young. Generally there is physical increase in size until maturation. Then when we might see some kind of transformation in form to represent further maturation. In natural ecological systems, everything has point of growth that is satisfactory and lives out a life span at that size.

All of this is a long way of saying that I rebel against our accepted principles of economics and business growth. Being who I am, I can't make a sale solely for the sake of the sale. I must feel that I am meeting the needs of the buyer. I don't want to partake in an unhealthy, destructive behavior (addictive buying) and I don't want to derail someone from their own path with my agenda (knit this because its what I have instead of knitting what you really wanted to knit.) I hold the ideas that if I create an atmosphere that honors the customer as a person and works to meet that customers needs, they will be compelled to buy products from me. As a business, I need the sales. I can't deny the self-serving aspect of it, but my goal is that the sale be a mutually beneficial transaction. One that everyone feels good about. That my business succeeds because I offer products and services that are truly appreciated. It is a heart-more transaction rather than a heart-less one.

Circles is not financially successful yet. I have my shortcomings (not very good at creating retail displays, for instance.) The business was bootstrapped and that has inherent shortcomings (any small financial setback doesn't just halt the ability to grow, it pulls the company backward.) I aspire to a much higher level of customer service and much deeper/broader offering of product/services. But my vision to create a successful business steeped in a different economic outlook and a different business ecology has not yet been proven ludicrous. (Even if we were to fail, it could simply be my failure, not a proof that the theory is bad.)

Beyond selling products and services, I strive to help people get the most out of their knitting experience. To capture the highest potential that knitting can bring to their lives. This isn't always about buying more stuff. Often purchases are made as a self-soothing tool. A moment of human transaction. A moment of power. A moment of _____. (you fill in the blank.) Often these moments are deceptive and ultimately self-destructive. The real need is not being met. The being with people. The tapping into the true power of your creativity. The healing of the alpha waves (the same waves generated by meditation) that are generated by the very actions of knitting. The ________. (You know what to do.)

Creating the kind of place where people have the opportunity to have quality exchanges is a slower building process than creating the kind of place where people come to be "sold" to. Its more complex. Its more challenging. Frankly, I am more exposed as a flawed human being. It takes a different kind of energy. Energy that can detract from the energy it takes to maximize sales. Attracting clientele that aren't used to this approach, articulating and creating the experience you envision, building a clientele that appreciate what you are offering, maintaining what you are offering and converting that experience into sales is more like cooking in a crock pot than a micro-wave. It takes exponentially longer, but the flavor is so much richer.

Now we're at a critical point. For Circles to be successful we have to make changes. We've been mulling the options over for a while - contract, transform, expand - and we've chosen a brazen one. Really test the concept of the experience fueling the business. The experience is created for our customers. If they are the ones experiencing and the ones who fuel the business let them merge. Let them be part of broadening the experience and increasing the pool of people who bathe in it. Embed them as a way of generating more people who embody the vision and carry it into the rest of their world. Not just for the success of Circles but the propogation of an idea.

Is this revolutionary? We are not the first to see our customers as the source of the capital to build the business and to embed our customer base into the business by making them owners. But we are part of a lineage of businesses that buck the valueless ideals of economics as we know it. We are trying find smart business strategies without giving up those ideals.

Am I a reluctant retailer? Yes, because I'm not sure I'm very good at it, per se. No, because the direct exchange of goods and services is at the core of human interaction. I like being at the core. Yes, because I want to serve people, I don't want to sell. No, because I see it as it as the chorus in a church. More people will come to church when there is music. Once they are they there, they may check out and find value in the other offerings. Circles is a place where the yarn is the music. Classes, field trips, events, stories about where the yarn came from, a cup of tea, a community and place that sees you as much more than a 'sale' are the other offerings. I am not reluctant to retail. I am reluctant to pursue it valuelessly. So often retail can represent the lowest common denominator in our mass psyche. I don't believe that we find that satisfactory. I believe that in the pursuit of dollars as quickly as possible business leaders have left us little choice. I believe people are inspired in more ways than one when they experience something different.

Is it all enough to motivate people to buy their yarns here often enough to enable us to build the business and offer more? Or even enough to sustain what we have? That is still to be seen. And for me, it is a test of a little revolution in that perpetual motion machine that I call a brain. I am not the first. Far from it. But it is still a revolution.

Now we'll see how many revolutionaries will join the cause of trying to make money while changing the way we approach it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Rumors vs. Visions

I heard a rumor the other day. Another LYS owner called to tell me that customers in her store were reporting that Circles was going out of business.

How do such rumors get started? Well, the best ones are not far from the truth. But those who generate rumors fail to see the creative potential of a near crisis. Rather than adding their power to the pool of those working towards transforming a near crisis into an opportunity, they seek power by propelling the near crisis into certain demise.

The truth is that Circles has been struggling. I have been struggling. A big part of my silence on this blog is that I have been facing some serious health issues. I don't want to turn this into a forum for reporting all the details of my ailment and yet, each day I wake up and hope I'll have a 'good' day which will mean that I'll manage to get to the shop for at least a few hours. The limited energy to devote to work has meant that I haven't posted here. But now is the time.

Being ill, I have not been able to drive the business the way it needs. I stopped teaching classes, which are a significant source for new customers and product sales. Pile that on top of the fact that we bootstrapped Circles to begin with and you end up with a business that is limping along.

We have no shortage of opportunities in front of us. Book publishing, pattern publishing, product ideas, travel circles and more, more, more. I simply can't make it all happen and without a push Circles is not viable. So, yes there was a brief moment of questioning whether the retail store was not the way to go. I could control the expenditure of my energy if I just had a design studio with workshops and social circles. It was a thought. Hence the rumor.

However, reports of our death are premature. The thought arose and the very next thought for me was about how to preserve the community. There are people who come to Circles for much more than the knitting. The knitting brings them together, the experience keeps them together. And that experience is vital to me. It is where I feel my calling and it nurtures and sustains me. So, rather than take something away from the community, we have decided to offer them more.

We are opening up the ownership. Going co-operative. Its very exciting. The community will not be vulnerable to the decisions of two owners because the members of the community will be owners. We have nearly 2,000 names on our customer list. The resources we can engage from that pool are enormous. Samples can be made, web presence increased, classes taught, events planned, inventory researched and planned out and so much more.

We already have a steering committee and are in the process of changing the corporate model. After a brief survey to test the idea with our constituents, we will put out the details of the offering and see what happens. I am thrilled. Can't think of a solution that is more aligned with my soul.

Here I was struggling to find a third partner - something we have considered for a while since my partner is not involved in operations and cannot help drive the business. I wondered if I was reluctant to give up control or be The Creative presence. I never thought of myself as someone who needed power. Indeed it more likely that I don't take control when it would be best if I did. But as soon as I thought about the community as the third partner, I felt at peace about it. It feels so natural and so dynamic. The energy at Circles right now is awesome. It simply feels right. It is in line with the vision of Circles. It is a visionary solution to a dilemma.

So, here we go. Shares will be $100 apiece. Details will be forthcoming in email, on our news blog and our forum. This is no rumor....

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Thrones and Goddesses

I went to the TNNA Tradeshow in San Diego last week. Before I left I walked into Circles to find a new piece of furniture in the Sitting Room. A rather large, creamy, cushy glider rocker. There was a card on it with at least 20 names saying, "Thank you."

Here I am wallowing in a sense of ineffectiveness and I'm handed what looks like a throne. It towers over all the other seating and its full of features. Its so cozy. The gliding movement is smooth and mesmerizing. Once I sit in it, I don't want to get up. I'm a bit overwhelmed by the thoughtful generosity. I can't say anything more graceful than, "Thank you, all."

Meanwhile, I went to the trade show (more about that soon) and stayed with my friend Susan who owns The Grove. I led a Greek Goddess Knitting Circle and we had a full house. I was concerned about being rusty because it had been a year and a half. Instead, I felt more in tune than ever. It was an 'introduction' circle to what is usually a much longer process, but it was still quite effective.

The women said they got a lot out of it. I felt better than I had in weeks. Alchemical Aphrodite was flowing through me for the first time in a long time. And I found myself definding the strategic, no nonsense Athena. Surprisingly, I was motivated to focus on Hera - the wife, the committer, the partner. She's probably a bit too quiet on my inner board of directors. Yet, I found that all conversational roads were leading to her. So, we spent the last hour and a half exploring the qualities of Hera.

And my time with Susan felt full of good energy. We spoke of being sister businesses. An idea we have tossed around before. But this time we had an idea of how to begin to build bonds between our two communities. (Go to the Circles message board for more on that.)

What to make of thrones and goddesses. While I struggle with self-worth and feeling rudderless, I am offered a throne and I visit with the Greeks.

The throne is an interesting symbol. As the hostess of a community, I have been likened to a Mother often. As much as I love my daughter and enjoy being a mother, I wouldn't say that my predominant personality trait is that of a mother. Demeter was the Mother and the Goddess of the Harvest. Before I had my child, I always had a garden, indoor plants and pets. Once I had a child, I seemed to be tapped out on my mothering energy. I haven't gardened, don't have plants in the house and I certainly don't deserve the continuing devotion of my dogs. I bristle a bit when people suggest that I'm the Mother of the Circles community.

What I don't like to admit, is that I am probably more of an archetypal Queen than a Mother. There have been moments in my life when people have told me I look regal. I assumed it was just because I'm tall. Did I mention above that Hera is The Queen. I resist Hera. She was the jilted wife. Hopelessly devoted to being defined as the wife of Zeus, she gets ferociously angry with the other woman, rather than her ever philandering husband. I don't like her. She seems the fool. And a destructive one, at that. But she is the only one who withstood Zeus' advances and trickery and aggression to force him to marry her before he could have her. Beyond that I can't tell you anything good about Hera. I lack appreciation for her.

I just googled "queen archetype" and came up with this. I'll have to see if I can hold this information and embrace it.

As for the goddesses, I realize I need to stay on the path of my heart. I didn't open Circles just to have a yarn store. The yarn store was a creative solution to earning a living while being accessible to my daughter. It was a business where I could let my creativity flow. Where I could host a community of women. And as a venue for following my intuition. I need to do those things that I am compelled to do. I find that right now, I am compelled to find a way to revive the goddess circles; I am compelled to pursue the travel circles; and I am compelled to find either an operating partner or a retail manager to run the shop while I pursue publishing patterns and books and continue building the unique blend of business and community that we have here at Circles.

So, I have compulsions. Now, how to gain momentum.....

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Unreliable? or Rudderless?

Where have I been? I get this blog started, enjoying the process of writing and reflecting, I tell myself I will post at least once a week and would like to build that to once a day, and then: I don't.

How many things have I said I'm going to do, that I don't get to? How often have I disappointed myself? Others?

There are always reasons. My heart is true. I simply don't seem to be able to swim straight against the tide of life. I am raising a 6 year old daughter and running a retail business. I am hosting a community of fiber artists, trying to contribute to my daughter's school and I sit on the local neighborhood council. I'm a knitter. That is my business, after all. I knit and I design for the shop and for myself and my daughter and sometimes friends. I'm supposedly writing a book. I have two dogs I should be taking on long walks everyday. I should be exercising. I should be singing. I should be socializing.

What I woke up feeling this morning, as I was setting my priorities for the day and feeling behind in everything, is that I'm unreliable. So much to do, so little time, means that I don't get to things. Am I unreliable?

Is it me? Or is time too constraining?

Why am I so disappointed in my inability to get more done? After all, all of this just concerns me keeping my little life together. All day long, I've been conscious of how disappointed I am. Why isn't my business making money yet? Why isn't that book written yet? Why aren't those patterns tested and published yet? All these ideas and no results. So unreliable.

There's a well-rehearsed critic in my head that's been bearing down on me. But then a friend asked me to lead a knitting circle at her shop in return for housing me on my next business trip. I asked her if she had a topic in mind and she immediately responded, "I really want you talk about the Greek Goddess knitting." I sent her a description for an intro to Greek Goddess knitting. She posted it to her customer list and 6 people immediately signed up. I am tickled pink. What it made me realize is that I have been so wrapped up in the mechanics of running a shop that I have neglected my calling. The motivation for opening a shop when I knew that I would not love retail, was to create a venue where I would cross paths with knitters who might be interested in consciously nurturing their spirits through their knitting. I am supposed to be developing my knitting therapy programs and helping people to heal. Instead, I am completely focused on inventory and cash flow and class schedules and sales figures and marketing. All things that need to get done, but I should know myself better by now. If I'm not doing the sine qua non, I will be drained. It is all non. Even if the shop were making me rich, I would be disappointed. I would feel unfulfilled.

Perhaps I have been unreliable. But what ship can be expected to get to the next harbor without a rudder? For some, their rudder may be in the making of the sale. Or it may be in planning of the inventory. I know that no business ship is in shape without these things, but my rudder is definitely the spirit work. I will always feel off course and in a stormy sea without it.

With the rudder in place, I will silence that tiny, yet ferociously tenacious critic. I will gain some clarity and wend my way through my days with a lot more grace.

At least for a while..... ;D