Can’t Escape The Irony

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Here I sit in the wee hours of the morning with my cup of faux coffee and buttered toast wrestling with the demons I am sure every “artiste” and creative type  encounters in their careers.

I am a fledgling entrepreneur who is close to deleting my Facebook and Instagram accounts.  Why?  Because I am overwhelmed with advertisements and self-promotion.  The “likes” and “follows” I receive on my accounts don’t seem to be because the people behind them are interested in dialogue but because they want to sell me something or garner “likes” for their own pages.

Sure, I want to sell my stuff, too.  But I don’t want to shove it in someone’s face every time they sign online.  I want to “like” and “follow” other accounts because we have something in common and can communicate about what we do, not because accumulating signs of approval boosts my ego.

I need to sell my creations. I need to create a market for what I do.  But I don’t want to be cynical and manipulative while doing it.  I like fiber and color and pattern so here I am slinging dye around, making tie-dye clothing in a world dominated by dark colors and ironic slogans.  On-line marketing, SEO, hashtags, etc. are a foreign language to me.  The learning curve is steep.

The world seems to be running on algorithms these days.  They are everywhere.  Not only in marketing and sales, but in all the service professions.  No one seems to know how to connect with others in an open, genuine manner any more.  The pressure to do more with less to keep the greedy stockholders happy has reduced the amount of time people have to be more than meat robots.  You want to offend me?  Treat me like just another step in your memorized algorithm.  I will get cranky and obnoxious in a heartbeat and do my damnedest to jerk you out of your robotic responses.  Who would you like me to manifest?  Robin Williams, George Carlin, Andy Griffin, or the evil witch of the West with the flying monkeys?  and I easily recognize jargon.

I am working with an online group that is helping me formulate a business plan.  The questionnaire I am required to fill out is intimidating.  What is my mission statement? Hell, I don’t know.  I make for the joy of making and hope people like what I do.  I want people who use my products to enjoy them, have fun, and feel loved.  Is that enough of a mission statement?  I am not out to save the world. Chip away at some of the gloom, maybe, but not lead a revolution.

And what percentage do I expect my business to grow in the next year? I don’t know that either. I will worry about it when it happens.  Right now I am concerned about materials and supplies to create enough product to sell and finding people to buy it. But I don’t want to get so big that the hand-produced aspect of the business is lost.  And people I have approached to sell to can get cheap rip-offs made in China for much less and toss them away after a few months instead of using them until they wear out.  The shirt I am wearing in the pic at the top of this article is my very first one ever, the one that started me on my journey, and it is now 8 years old.  The one I am wearing in my profile pic is one of my experiments from the past year and is the representative of the direction I want to go with my shirts.

I don’t know how to answer these questions in the same “corporate business speak” language the originators use.  I am afraid to distill my work into spreadsheets and financial projections because that will take the joy out of it, but reality raises it’s ugly head.  It is part of the not so fun side of running a business.  I am already very broke and trying to do this, if I don’t control cash flow I will just be more broke.

I find myself up against the Wal-Martization of the culture and the pitch to the lowest common denominator; the sad complaint of creative types for centuries.  These days hand-made objects are luxuries and the provenance of people who have the time and money to indulge themselves.  Skills that were once a part of daily life are now dominated by privileged white people, usually retired, and the competition among them is fierce. I have rarely seen locals or POC at Master Gardener events or fiber conventions.  In the town where I live the social and economic problems are such that survival is the focus and anything beyond that is viewed with suspicion, so I don’t sell locally.  Not yet, anyway; though I am not discounting the possibility.  When I first started I couldn’t give away my work here.  I hope that as the town grows and groovies up a market for my kind of thing may develop here. There are new bars and entertainment venues popping up downtown as people migrate here to escape higher costs in the big town on the hill west of us.

I don’t mean to sound bitter and angry,  I am more puzzled and groping my way in the dark.  So much of this blog has become a place for personal venting instead of for my business that I am considering starting a separate one for kvetching and keeping this one strictly for sales and marketing.  Any and all advice or comments are welcome.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Facebook Vacation

Hi, all!  This is just a quickie to let you know that I am taking a vacation from Facebook but will still be posting on WordPress.  Please stay in touch.

The studio is almost up and running.  The sinks are installed and I have some nice restaurant mats to stand on and a kerosene heater to warm up the space. I am slowly plugging away on a business plan and all the paperwork stuff that makes being an official business such a pain before I can start begging people to give me money to work with via grants.  First I have to convince them that there is more to me than retro, crazy hippie, tie-dye stuff.  I eventually want to branch out into hand-dyeing knitting yarn, too.  I have pages of notes concerning my “creative visions” and am closer to becoming able to make them real.  Thanks for all of your support and encouragement as I grind it out.

So far the most difficult part, besides all the numbers stuff (how in the heck do I know how much my business is going to expand next year???? I am just starting out!),is coming up with a mission statement.  Does making unique, comfortable, fun clothing for all shapes and sizes sound too ambitious?  I am not exactly sure what the guys in the suits want to hear.  If anyone has ideas, please toss them my way.

In the meantime, beloveds, keep flying your flags!!

Of Shepherds and Sheep

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It is the dark of the year, the dormant time when nights are long and cold and the days are too short to accomplish much.  It is too cold in the garage to dye and I spend time wondering if I can afford to do the renovations required to make it an efficient dye studio.  I want space and equipment to turn my mental images into reality.  I follow other dyers on Facebook and goggle at the things they produce.  I want my own voice with color and pattern and chafe at my restrictions.  And I want validation.  I want others to like what I do and buy it.  I don’t want to have to pitch to the lowest common denominator in order to make a few dollars, but I need time and resources to practice and develop.  I feel guilty taking advantage of other’s differences in order to advance my own needs.  Compromising principles and ideals puts food on the table, however.  Finding the balance in that is always a problem.

Whine, whine, whine.  So easy to do when you are cold and lonely and recovering from yet another betrayal by the old body.  In my head I am still 30 yet my body is rapidly approaching 64.  Genetics, karma, and bad habits are catching up with me.  People say that age is just a number.  Will somebody please remind me of that  when my knees don’t want to bend the way I would like them to?

We incarnate here for the Great Work whether we are conscious of it or not.  In our own feeble, fumbling ways we are all searching for the Middle Path and the way back to the Source.  Robes and badges and ranks and tools and systems are just distractions.  Attachments to structures are useful, but are full of pitfalls.  We wonder why schisms develop and groups squabble among themselves.  Finding the balance between the tools we need to do our work and the Work itself is a struggle.

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It has been said that the Universe (whatever that is) recycles situations until we learn the lessons.  Life is a spiral.  Sacred geometry and all that. So now I am looking at a repeating situation in my life and wondering just what the Universal curriculum is in this particular turn of the screw. It ain’t my first rodeo and I am seeing a pattern here.  Methinks there is fuel for more therapy in this.

I own the qualities of being ornery, independent, and rebellious.  My motto should be “The Emperor Has No Clothes” and if I ever get to change my current one I will most likely switch to that. Imperator non habet vestimenta.

In my rambling adventures through this particular life I have found myself again and again in situations requiring a level of obedience and submission that I struggle with.  I recognize the need for structure, organization,  and self-discipline in my life and will not argue that fact.  But there comes a breaking point.  That point occurs when the outer trappings of the inner work become more important than the work itself.  When rank and badges and testing and degrees cease becoming symbols and become validation for egos or, worse yet, distractions and a way of hiding from the unpleasant truth that the Work engenders.  We have to hug our Shadows.  I am old friends with Kali-ma, Hecate, Isis, and any other name you would like to hang on that archetype.

Where is the balance here?  There needs to be some system to communicate responsibilities within an organization.  Signals as to who to go to when certain needs arise.  Yet, repeatedly when I have reached out to others of “higher rank”, the “shepherds” or “leaders” of whatever group I am currently involved in I have been met with dead ends. Broken and crying in instructor’s offices, on meditation cushions, in the middle of ritual, in the hospital; I have lost count of the places and times and situations.  Poor, pitiful me.  I toss their rule book out the window and whine when they don’t like it.  My personal alphabet doesn’t aline with theirs and I want so badly to belong, yet I can’t swallow all of the Kool-Aid required to get there.

So, what is the lesson here?  That my path is my own and that I am my own shepherd?  Yes.  Always.  There is no arguing with that truth.  And I should give up asking for validation from other people?  Probably, but that is a tough one for me.  I feel like a single cell in a larger organism.  I am unable to isolate myself from what surrounds me.  I just ain’t wired like that.

BUT. . . .(you know there is always at least one of these). . . I wonder if I don’t know the correct way to ask for help and comfort. How many times have I been told that I am too blunt and too direct? Or is it ego and the shadow self coming forth?  and on and on and on ad infinitum with the navel gazing.  Or is it, as a good little Buddhist, am I once again tripping over my own expectations and here is something I need to let go of yet again? and again and again? ( I am nothing if not stubborn.)  And do I need  to recognize that those I ask for help have clay feet and love them anyway?  (The answer to that one is “of course.”)  Dukkha is a wobbly wheel.

I do not believe in separating myself from the world, of building up so much detachment that I do not react to what is around me.  I refuse to be “above it all” and I have no desire for a teflon shield. I came here voluntarily and I wallow in the world I have helped create.  I have found that the more time I have spent on the cushion or my knees, in prayer or meditation or whatever you want to call the act of plugging in to that which is greater than us, the more connected to the “all” I am.  The fewer defenses I have, the more my boundaries erode.  The more urgency I feel to respond to brokeness. And I try in my own small ways.  Daily I realize how little power I actually have when it comes to grand gestures and the birds remind me that it is the little things that matter as I fill the feeders.

Aaaaaaannnnnnddddd. . . . here we go with the pop psychology. . . .allow me to throw around a few familiar terms here: “healthy boundaries”, “self-care”, “empath”, “codependence”, “inner child”, “PTSD”, “12-steps”, “unresolved anger.” Had enough?  I can give you plenty more.

We all need our “tribe” and modern society no longer seems to support that.  If you look around you at many social groups; religious, spiritual, or otherwise; the “heavy lifting” seems to be done by single older women, largely because the men don’t seem to be able to live long enough.  The crones.  The ones with the time and resources to care for the children, volunteer, do the administrative work, count the birds, rescue the strays, and organize the thrift stores.  They are the ones who take up the slack when the “shepherds” can’t. I could go on a rant about who cares for the elders in our society. Too often it is a one-sided relationship.  And I could be ranting based on  anxiety about my own rapidly approaching elder-hood.

As one who was born bossy and had responsibility foisted on me at a very young age, who does not know how to behave otherwise, and who has spent most of my life as a leader and instigator of one sort or another (often not voluntarily) as well as being a compulsive nurturer I have  fought many battles over the idea that those who lead others; call them “pastors”, “temple chiefs”, “sergeants”,”teachers”, “gurus”, or “managers”, as well as whatever other words you can dig up in the thesaurus, have a responsibility to care for their followers.  In my many years of battling corporations my biggest and most wearying task was making sure that my staff was cared for, that their needs were met. Because if my people were not whole they could not serve those who were not.  And I always thought that my staff should not have to ask or act out in order to get what they needed. They needed structure and rules and direction, but they also needed someone to realize when they needed support and propping up when the work became overwhelming.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was drilled into my head in school and daily I see how it can be applied.  I think if Jesus were to speak in contemporary jargon it would have been the basis for the Sermon on the Mount.

Spiritual types of the “mindfulness” persuasion talk about “presence.”  It is the quality of being there, in the moment, with whatever is going on, and not fighting it.  Sometimes it can be unsettling to be with someone who is present. They see through your smoke screens and love you anyway.   Often they love you in spite of/ because of your bullshit.

It is a quality I have often seen develop with age and experience as well as time spent in contemplation.  There are reasons that in some societies the elders gravitate toward the monastic life.  And I wonder if it is part of the reason that elders are no longer cared for in contemporary Western cultures.  Elders remind us that our physical containers wear out and “presence” reminds us to get our heads out of our own asses.  It is a daily practice to be present and we often fail at it more often than we succeed. The point is to keep trying.  Use whatever you need to use as a reminder.  One well known teacher uses the sound of a bell.  I often use a piece of jewelry.

It is when the mechanisms of mutual support break down that a group splinters.  Egos get in the way.   Much goes unspoken.  Hurts fester. Employees resign.  Customers get pissed off. Confusion reigns. People squabble and fight back.  A cohort gets pissed off over the interpretation of a verse in their version of the rules and trots off down the street to do their own thing and the cycle begins all over again.  It isn’t always a bad thing, growth often requires it, but it can also be an unecessary waste of time and energy as well as causing rifts between people who are already too isolated by their own egos.

Nothing lasts forever, but if we take on a task and set ourselves to accomplish it, the shepherds need to look after the sheep and quit worrying about all the shiny baubles, spiritual merit badges, certificates, and extraneous regalia.  We need each other, not the gadgets.

Going to therapy is all well and good, but it is no substitute for connection and community, for spending unstructured time together, hanging out and simply sharing who we are.  It takes time to be comfortable with each other and to be vulnerable. Strength comes from our vulnerability to each other and our mutual trust and interdependence.  We learn how our pieces fit together in order to build something greater.

As our society wobbles toward major changes, requiring uncomfortable and possibly dangerous conditions, all we are going to have is each other.  Would we not be better off to develop the skills and systems we need to build and support community now rather than picking up after the next major disaster? Or will the disasters and upheavals be the impetus we need to learn how to work with each other?  Funny how it often happens that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Alchemy and Illness

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This post has nothing to do with dying or color.  I feel the need to talk about my recent adventures so please bear with me.

Here is what I have been through in the past month, and these are just the highlights.  All of this is on top of struggling to control my type 2 diabetes, with blood sugars all over the place and diabetic burnout on top of it all.  There has been fallout from recent attempts to adjust meds and an allergic reaction to a medication my endocrinologist tried because I was having unpleasant side effects from the one I had been on for 5 years.  So far 2017 has not been my year.

  1. Acute diverticulitis flare requiring a trip to the local acute care, lots of belly pain, severe diarrhea and nausea from oral antibiotics, spending about a week flat on my back living on crackers and bananas.
  2. Severe allergic reaction to pravastatin, much muscle pain and weakness.  I had allowed a doctor to guilt me into taking the med against my better judgement.
  3. Unpleasant news resulting in much anxiety, shame, and emotional turmoil.  The result of a poor decision about a year and a half ago.
  4. Severe allergic reaction to topamax; psychosis and the pain of knowing my perceptions and emotions had no basis in reality but still experiencing the weirdness. Taken in an attempt to deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder and stabilize the rollercoaster my mood has been on for most of this year, which is a whole other story.
  5.  Middle of the night hospital admission through ER for continued diverticulitis flare resulting in IV morphine and antibiotics, due in a large part to the GI upset resulting from oral antibiotics.
  6. An epic meltdown just prior to discharge from the hospital due to an administrative snafu resulting in my admission not being covered by my insurance company.  They could have discussed it with me after I had been there 24 hours, not after 4 days, and 3 hours before I was due to go home.  I think the mushroom cloud is still hanging over the hospital after that one and I am not through with them over it.

It is difficult not to be bitter and angry and feel sorry for myself, but I own my part in all that has happened.  I am not a helpless victim.  There have been good lessons presented and my heart has been touched in ways that may not have happened otherwise.

I have always been extremely independent, Type A, super competent, over responsible eldest child, self-educated; in no way a shrinking violet. rather a galloping extrovert. My style has been “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes”.  I took care of others and did not trust others to take care of me. I had all the answers or knew where to look them up. Defense mechanisms from trauma, anyone?

I have had to learn to ask for help and to allow others to care for me and to realize that there is no shame in it.  Through all of this, I have learned who my real friends are.  I think my daily habit of keeping a gratitude journal has paid off because there has been so much reason for gratitude in all of this.  And I have been surprised at the people who have come forth.  Everyone has busy, full, lives and too many obligations and I deeply appreciate those who took the time to  show up and demonstrate compassion and care for me.  I cry a little thinking about all that has happened.

There was the friend who can barely keep herself fed and housed, but who brought a gift bag of things to distract me and who works night-shift but showed up on my doorstep one morning when I needed someone to talk to.

And the person who came every day, who brought my favorite chinese food in the middle of the night, who has also been a listening ear and a source for feedback when I have needed to talk, and who dropped everything and took me home from the hospital when I needed to leave earlier than planned.

Another person whom I have not known for very long, who drove 45 minutes to visit me and sat open-mouthed during a discussion I had with someone else about gastrointestinal illness and fecal transplants.  She later texted and said that she would offer her stool if it would help me get better.

Someone I had not seen in 2 years brought me flowers from her garden twice, and remembered that they were the ones my grandmother had nicknamed me for.  She also turned up in the hospital with a goodie bag and has promised me home-made french onion soup for behaving myself in the hospital.

My ever patient sister visited my house twice a day to feed my furbabies in addition to stopping by the hospital, and vacuumed up the ginormous dustbunnies that had accumulated in the corners of my house.  She provided entertainment for both me and the hospital staff by filling in daily goals and activities on the whiteboard in the room.

And there was the unfailing kindness and compassion of the hospital staff who took the time to crack jokes with me, provide extra bottles of shampoo to bring home when I talked about how nice it was to have fluffy hair, and gave me a tube of body cream because they thought I would like the way it smelled. They smuggled in real coffee when all the cafeteria would send was decaf.  They hung out in my room when they had time, told me their stories of kids and nursing school and crafts and gardening, traded medical care war stories, put up with my goofy jokes, and laughed at my snarky comments.  I do not handle confinement and restriction well and they made it much more tolerable.

Recent events have changed me.  I have learned, perhaps a little bit, to allow others to love me in their own ways and, maybe, to love myself a little more in the process. I have learned to ask for help.  Stubborn and hardheaded that I am, it often takes whacks from the Universal Baseball Bat to drive a lesson home.  Trying to be woke is an ongoing process, it comes in waves, and the Great Work is never accomplished in a straight line or through a tidy procedure.  We all wander and lessons are provided when and where they are needed.  To paraphrase a famous Rolling Stone song; we don’t always get what we want, but we get what we need.  We are ever the Fool about to step off the cliff.  What else can we do but laugh at the cosmic joke and keep on keeping on, remembering to be grateful and recognizing love in the little things?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extroversion and Tie-Dye

Alaree in reverse dye scribble

It makes sense to me that extroversion and tie-dye go together.  Tie-dye is unpredictable and can be wild. No matter how I try to control the dye there are always surprises.  Compared to some of the other tie-dyers I follow online I am actually pretty tame, but I am still relatively new at it.

There is a sort of alchemy  in the process when I mix dyes and blend colors; watching my reactions to the colors and patterns as well as other people’s. Start digging into the psychology of color and things get more interesting.

It is a primal, messy process involving splashing liquids around and incubating the fiber to set the dyes. Kind of the way I live my life; the cooked pasta approach; throw it at the wall and see what sticks.  I throw dye on fabric and see what it turns into.

I have been called a galloping extrovert and (please pardon the buzzword) an empath.  I like people.  They fascinate me.  I have never met a stranger.  I am constantly curious about them, sometimes to the point of having been called nosey and intrusive.   Give me 10 minutes with another person and if I am in the  right mood I can often hear their life story and tell you how many eyelashes they have.  And interacting with other people is very similar to dying, there are always surprises, not always pleasant and not always what I think I want, but never boring.

I am famous for having connections with people where ever I go.  I walked into a grocery store in California and struck up a conversation with a young woman who turned out to be from my hometown in NC and whose grandparents were known to me. That sort of thing happens often. in my life.  Someone I know says there are only 100 people in the world.

Friends and I were discussing taking a trip to Florida to visit some of their friends.  I can think of 3 people in the area that I know and a couple along the way that I would love to stop and visit with if time allowed.  If I were going alone I would probably do it.

I can talk with almost anyone about almost anything and have a great time in the process.  There isn’t much of a filter on my mouth (I try, I really do try). I am eternally curious, overly analytical, and have a wicked sense of the absurd in addition to being well-read and in love with wordplay.  Sometimes I like the sound of my own voice too much and tend to blather on too long, but the Universe has ways of shutting me up.  I try to lay down my ego and pride every day.  They get too heavy and I often trip over them.  If I don’t try to put them aside, they may get yanked from my grasp.

“Telling stories” is a southern, mountain thing.  The oral tradition is strong in the Appalachians and, though tending to dwindle, still exists in the groups of men having their morning coffee together in the local restaurant, women on girls’ nights out, and people in fiber crafting groups.

Some years ago I dragged a friend away from his PhD studies long enough to visit my family in the Western NC hills.  He had been born and raised in Michigan and had never experienced a group of people who just sat around the table after dinner and talked. He was astounded.  Not only did we talk, we “told stories” on each other, knee-slapping tales with tongue in cheek humor and only mild exaggeration.  It is a bonding experience and the habit is part of the famous “southern hospitality” as well as part of the reason those of us with roots in the hills have been considered clannish.

I see a saddening erosion of community in the world these days, a lack of deep connection and awareness of the world around us.  In my small way, I try to reverse the process. Nothing is accomplished by a person alone in spite of all the dramatic tales you may hear.  Look behind the tales of the heroes and see who and what helped get them there.  Even Batman had Alfred.

We are all connected on many levels. There are many stories behind every sentient being and every thing we encounter if we are willing and able to try to listen.  Sometimes we have to ask others to listen to us, too.  Sometimes it takes severe circumstances to yank our heads out of our own asses and wake us up to the world around us.

I  recently read an article on addiction that spoke to the theory that addictive behavior is a result of a lack of feeling connected to others.  But being connected also means being vulnerable.  Energy travels both ways.  Reciprocity.  Lack of connection means a lack of feeling safe, of isolation.  So we are self-destructive or other-destructive because we have no tools to create the connections we crave.

When I dye a shirt, I do a little ju-ju over it.  I ask that whoever wears it feels loved, that they have happy times when they wear it, that they grow and learn, that any attention the shirt garners be positive and lead to connection with others, and that the wearer have the strength and support to accept and grow from whatever comes their way.

That may be a big order for a yard of cloth and some chemicals, but otherwise. . .why bother?  You tell me.