Friday, May 24, 2013

You Only Know What You Know

"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." ~Goethe
One of the long-term projects I'm putting on my plate is the Certificate of Excellence in Handspinning offered by the Handweavers Guild of America. Why?  That is an excellent question! Let's start at the beginning.

Backstory (includes a whole herd of teal deer): 

There was this Ravelry thread, and it was soulsucking and awful and angrymaking.  It made me want to throw things at multiple people, gave me fits, and left me desperately wondering what sort of people raised those people. Because, seriously, who does that?!  It took a big, steaming dump on the idea of "community" that I love and hold dear and, for a while, made me want to drop out of the fiber arts entirely.  

But.  But but but.   

There's this thing I've learned to do when I find myself getting all fitty.  I've learned that things that get me riled up are usually poking at things I don't like about myself.  Because it's all about me.  Always.  So I've been sitting with this ugly, mean-spirited mess of a thread (which has, in fairness, evolved into something useful toward the latter few pages), and really looking at why it's upsetting to me.  I found a few things.

While I disagree with the snark and the smugness and the stomping of hopes and dreams, I agree with some of the points made in that thread.  And I didn't like that about me, mostly because it didn't feel "nice".  I try, I really try, to be inclusive and accepting and open to other perspectives.  I have a "your beliefs are just as believable as my beliefs" mentality and tend to be respectful of different ideas, often to my own detriment.  I am a self-titled Professional Noob, and I want all the noobs to feel welcome to join in and participate.  Then I do this thing where I think "Yeah, but this is business..." and that's when the signal goes to static and I start feeling really confuzzled.  The online fiber marketplace is essentially a free-for-all.  There are no clearly-defined quality standards to be met before one can sell hand-dyed/handspun yarn or fiber or...  There is no universal regulatory/governing body responsible for overseeing the fiber arts.  There are no community-wide Certificates of Awesomeness.  There are no real boundaries. So the marketplace is the community is the marketplace, and that's something pretty unique.  And awkward.  And somewhat problematic.  Can business and community coexist?  What are the ethics of this sort of business? 

One of the recurring themes in the Thread of Suck was a shrill harping about how noobs had no right to sell noobcraft (offered with a side of "get off my lawn!").  The time-honored "this is why we can't have nice things" argument was raised, and a heap of blame for poor market performance was placed on the noobs (theory being the market saturation created by the mass influx of noobspun destroyed the ease with which "experts" could sell their wares).  A few posts acknowledged that the market would sort the mess itself (eventually).  There was a lot of "you cannot has" thrown down, and without any sort of real authority to enforce that kind of exclusive access to, and control over, the market. 

This implication that only Ferraris belong on the road is some nonsense.  No one would believe for a second that the vast number of available Civics somehow diminishes the worth of a Bentley (most would probably claim the opposite is true).  A Prius is not a Porsche.  Duh.  This is easy to put into car terms because those values are pretty well known and at least accepted (if not truly understood).  Fiber art is a bit different because the knowledge of what separates high-quality from not is not nearly so universal.  The element of prestige is pretty much non-existent which affects variables like "luxury" and "taste" that might otherwise be used to justify prices and assign value. 

At the same time, we have "lemon laws" that protect buyers from wasting money on crappy cars.  There is no such protection in the fiber marketplace (says someone who has received quite a bit of frustrating fluff from "noobs" and "experts" alike).  There is no rule or law in Fiberville that says "thou shalt not sell crap".  And so, people do.  Some maliciously, but my guess/hope is that most do so in ignorance.  Ignorance that begins to seem somewhat willful, when you consider examples like "Dyers" who don't spin, and "Spinners" who don't know how to use their own yarn.

Back and forth and back again, to what end?  Ultimately, I have zero control over The Market and what the "experts" think and do.  All I can do is look at myself, and my shop, and my space in the community.  So that's what I've been doing.  I've been going over that sucktacular thread again and again, trying to filter out the ego-fueled ranting and distill the points that deserve consideration.  Then I've done the icky work of running my own products/process past those points.  Not so much as a pass/fail.  I still believe that everyone deserves a place.  More as a way to determine what needs improvement because anyone who's not an asshat can always find something that does.  Self-monitoring/evaluation seems to be the sort of thing that not-douches do.  

And so, the booklet in the picture at the top of this rambling post.  I decided to go to the dark side and really explore technical precision in spinning, which is not to say that I will ever attain a certifiable standard of same. ;-)  I'd like to do this as a tangible thing and not just an intellectual exercise.  I'm motivated to learn more about my craft because I'm a nerd like that, and because quality is important to me.  I only know what I know, but I know there's more to learn.  I also want to know how it is that one gets from "noob" to "expert".  If there is a set path for this, I have not yet stumbled upon it.   I want my art to be a willful exercise in deviating from a standard, not merely "art" as a matter of convenient labeling for something that won't fit neatly elsewhere.  I am aware that there are some "experts" out there who'd be happy to tell me where it fits.  I'm not doing this for them.  I want to find/refine my style, my "voice". 

I can be better, and there's no shame in saying that.  I look at the tremendous amount of progress I've made in my very limited time in Fiberland and I am very proud of my achievements.  I see no need to be embarrassed by my shop or my decision to sell fiber and yarn without a Decree of Worthiness from those who'd put themselves above me.  There is a great deal about business that can only be learned by doing business.  The value of the lessons I've learned from having my shop have far outweighed the miniscule possibility that my mere presence in the marketplace was somehow damaging to the market itself.  I'm sure the market will get over whatever insult I may have inadvertently caused.  I hope the "experts" will, too.

There's a lot more to say about this Evil Thread of Evil-turned-useful and the brainwrangling it has inspired/required.  The good news is that I (might) have more time to talk it out.  I've decided to put my shop on vacation for the foreseeable future so that I can devote myself to further study of my art, along with some serious community building.  We really do need a lot of the latter, and I'm hoping the former will give me the energy to be a part of it.  This is all part of that shift I've felt coming.

Excuse my dust. Renovation in progress.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Not Now. Maybe Later.

Like most, I don't like "no".  I want to do all the things. I only have so much time.

Mix those three and what results is an incredible feeling of pressure and stress to doallthethingsrightnow lest I somehow miss out or be left behind.  Problem is, that's not a very sustainable business strategy.  The result would most likely be a mess of half-done projects, or projects completed at half my ability.  Not good for business; half-done and half-quality both equal waste, IMO.

In order to help myself slow down, prioritize, and actually complete my projects, I employ a strategy I learned from parenting.  Not now. Maybe later.  "Not now" is a lot easier to receive and accept than "no."  Maybe later keeps it in the realm of possibility, rather than slamming the door shut.  The overall effect is an acknowledgement of both the super awesome new idea and the other ideas already on my plate.

I keep a ridiculously long list of Maybe Later Projects.  Seriously- it's nearly 200 entries long right now.  If I feel some spare energy bubbling around (hah!), I pick a new project from that list.  When I do my quarterly business evaluation, I cull the list and purge projects that no longer seem like such amazingly fabulous ideas.  I pick 2-3 that really jump out at me and put those on the official plan for that quarter.  The plan gets refined during weekly and monthly reviews, so there's not a whole lot of room for stagnation. 

How do you sort your ideas?  How do you decide what to follow and what to keep as fantasy?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

TIMT: Kindergarten Capelet

Been a while since I posted for Thing I Made Thursday.  Here's a special edition to make up for it.  :-)

This is a pic of my very first "all by myself" pattern. Yes, really.  I just made it up. It's fresh off the needles; you can see a bit of yarn at the collar that needs weaving in, and it's in desperate need of blocking, but... I made that!  With mah brainz!!!  And it actually fits!  I took it straight off the needles and asked her to try it on.  We're both very pleased with how it turned out.

It had been a reeeeeaaaalllly long time since I'd picked up my pointy sticks.  I'd forgotten how therapeutic it is to get lost in the rhythm of a good knit.  This was done in the round, which I love.  I was surprised by how well my hands remembered the stitches, even if my brain was having trouble recalling the details.  From start to finish, this project was very intuitive.  It's not particularly complicated, which I'm sure helped.  ;-)

It's appropriate to have a project I made for bigger babester featured today, as it is her 5th birthday.  I guess you could say there are two things I made in that picture.  She is her own, wild little creation, though.  She'll be starting Kindergarten in the fall (where does the time go?!!).  She's addicted to books (buncha bibliophiles in this house).  She is one of the kindest people I've met, and would gladly share pretty much anything she has.  She's also coming into her own power, and developing a sense of boundaries and her own code.  She's patient with her baby sister, which is no easy feat sometimes.  I know I'm biased, but she's a really neat little person.  I'm excited to see what this next year will bring for her.

One thing I know I can help her cultivate is her love of the fiber arts.  She was a great fleece shopping buddy at MDSW this year.  She's great at helping pick out colorways for batts.  She has had fun coming up with start-to-finish projects with a bit of assistance. So I think it's time for her to be properly initiated into the ways of the fiber junkies.

The spindle may look familiar to those of you who know me (or have been following my little slice of weird for a while).  I thought it was fitting to have her learn on the same spindle I learned on.  There's a bit of "leader" from a previous spin wrapped on there already, too.  Of course, I expect she'll want several of her own spindles; those extra chore funds aren't going to spend themselves!  For her first fiber, I went straight for the good stuff.  I picked out that pink poof of awesome from Loop at MDSW.  Steph herself put it into that little baggie.  She has no idea who I am, and probably thought it was odd that I only bought an ounce of fluff, but there's a bit of story on my side to support my madness.  Steph's from our town originally, and her fiber is the stuff my babester would always covet (whenever I was fortunate enough to get my hands on it).  Her spontaneous spinning clouds are what I took with me to spin while on vacation because they're heavenly.  Soft, fluffy, gorgeous color, and the type of prep that encourages spinners to feel the fiber and really experience it rather than overthinking it.  So when I saw the giant bag of spontaneous spinning cloud in this perfect pink colorway, I knew exactly what babester's first spinning fiber would be.

There are more fun things in the works here at BabesterArts, but it will probably be June before I have more to say about them.  I've got a write up of this pattern to finish, another pattern in the making, a fourth carding cloth co-op to finish, some really BIG projects to reveal...

All in due time.  :-)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Trusting Fool

Osho Zen Tarot "The Fool"

"A fool is one who goes on trusting; a fool is one who goes on trusting against all his experience.  You deceive him, and he trusts you; and you deceive him again, and he trusts you; and you deceive him again, and he trusts you.  Then you will say that he is a fool, he does not learn.  His trust is tremendous; his trust is so pure that nobody can corrupt it.

Be a fool in the Taoist sense, in the Zen sense.  Don't try to create a wall of knowledge around you.  Whatsoever experience comes to you, let it happen, and then go on dropping it.  Go on cleaning your mind continuously; go on dying to the past so you remain in the present, here-now, as if just born, just a babe.

In the beginning it is going to be very difficult.  The world will start taking advantage of you -- let them.  They are poor fellows.  Even if you are cheated and deceived and robbed, let it happen, because that which is really yours cannot be robbed from you, that which is really yours nobody can steal from you.  And each time you don't allow situations to corrupt you, that opportunity will become an integration inside." - Osho

I've been a fool lately.  It was foolish to jump headlong into a moderating project for a hot-button topic when I had zero moderating experience.  It was foolish to take on co-ops and projects while juggling family life and my own business.  It was foolish to take a relative stranger into my home.  It was foolish to think that my kindness would be returned equally, or even received with appreciation.  It was foolish to trust that others would have my best interests at heart, and foolish to think my good intentions would keep me from being exploited.  I have been a fool, but is that really such a bad thing?

I've noticed an element of shame in my thinking lately.  I'm really good at beating myself up; have been for my whole life.  We can be polite and call it "self-discipline" but the truth is that I'm mean to me.  Regularly.  I don't need other people to be mean to me; I'm cruel enough to myself.  And when I make mistakes, which, being human, I do often, I am the first person in line to take a swing at me for having made them.  I say things to myself like "how could you?!" and "what were you thinking?!" and "don't you know better?!!!!"  I blame myself first when things go wrong. If only I'd done more, or better, or differently. If only I'd been more/less guarded/assertive.  If only I'd been more patient/acted more quickly. If only I'd said that one thing that would make everything right...  Which, reduced, boils down to "If only I were perfect."

I'm not.  I never will be.

So what?

I have made "So what?" a bit of a mantra this year.  People being jerks on Ravelry.  So what?  Someone on the internet doesn't like me.  So what?  I did something innocently stupid.  So what?  Did someone die?  No.  Is death even a legitimate possibility?  Not likely, no.  Fuck it, then.  Wipe the slate and start over.  Recalibrate.  Reinvent.  Reimagine.

The trick is to scrub off all the mess and really start fresh.  I am very good at tucking memories and grudges into a Poppins-style Bag O' Crap and carrying that shit around with me, and a Fool's Journey can't handle that kind of a burden.  It's hard to say to myself: "Well, Self, you fucked that one up.  Let's move on." and then leave that mess behind and truly move on.  It's much easier to rehash what happened and analyze and look for that one, critical "a ha" factoid that will magically correct whatever suckfest I've experienced.  It's habit to use blame to distance myself from whatever crap I went through.  That Person did That Thing and that's why I am where I am.

This is also a "So what?" scenario.

I've learned to give myself a set timeframe for rubble-sifting.  I've learned that what I'm looking for isn't who's to blame or what sort of magical band-aid the situation might need.  There are lessons in all experiences; all knowledge is worth having.  But what I find in the leftovers of whatever problematic mess I've been in is rarely an Epic Boulder of Wisdom.  More often, it's a pebble, or a rock, if I'm really lucky.  Some little crumb of insight into my self that starts me back on my Fool's Path. 

So, here I am.  Again.  Shaking off the dust of another crumbled Tower, floating in that liminal place between where I began and where I'll end up.  Here at the threshold, calling myself back to the lighthearted steps of The Fool. 


Cormo.  Good for what ails ya!

When I started my business, I was really naive.  I was in love.  I was leaping, expecting the net to appear.  The net appeared in various forms.  My business paid for itself and then some.  My love of all things fiber expanded exponentially.  I met some really great people.  I learned.  A lot. I took a break.  I came back.  I kept learning.  I am still learning.

In a paragraph summary like the one above, my fiber experience has been blissful.  Honestly, that's not too far from the truth.  The good has far outweighed the bad, and my love for the art/craft has only deepened.  But I'm noticing a lot more "static" in my fiberverse these days.  When I started, all I felt was positivity, support, joy and acceptance.  See above re: really fucking naive.   I don't know if I've just expanded the number of wavelengths I receive now, or if the overall vibe of the fiber community has shifted, but now is definitely not then!  Etsy handspun makes "experts" depressed.  There is One True Way and anything that is not that is wrong.  Everything is for sale.  It's a cutthroat competition.  Screw or be screwed.

This is not what I signed on for.

I've decided to take a few giant steps back from the fiber community.  I feel like my little song is getting lost.  It's one thing to sing out and be drowned out by other voices, but I feel like I can't even hear it myself anymore and that's a problem.  I need to go back to what brings me joy: tinkering and experimenting and learning.  I need to find more ways to help and enable and support and give.  I need to tune out the frequencies that are all about making a buck and not giving a fuck.  

The only way I know how to do all of that is to retreat.  That's kinda hard to do with a forum to moderate and co-ops to run and artists to enable.  So instead of retreating completely, I'm calling this "recalibrating."  I'm starting (again) by cleaning out my stash and my space. Clearing clutter is a good way to shift energy, IMO. I'm clearing out the energies that seem to suck me down, too.  I've left a lot of forums I've been watching because the drama level outweighed the useful, beneficial information.  I'm going to spend the next couple months revisiting what brings me joy in the fiber world, namely soft floofy things and learning.  Always learning. 

I make no guarantees about posting here, but I keep this blog as my own archive/journal so hopefully I'll come up with some things to say.  All I know at this point is I'm not having fun anymore.  Fiber should be fun.  There's got to be a way to get from here to there.

More to follow...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Give Signal

I always forget that I have this thing.  And then I feel guilty for not blogging.  And the guilt keeps me from blogging.  Hi!  How've you been?

I've been an interesting mix of awesome and abused.  This has been very difficult to grapple.  I've wanted to write (because that's how I like to express myself), but I haven't because it wouldn't be "professional".  After all, fiber is srs bsns and I r profeshunull yarnie.  Or something.  Except not.  I'm a person.  And an empathic, sensitive, intuitive, downright delicate one.  This is what makes me an artist and what inspires me to create, and yet this is what has caused me the most grief of late.  So I feel like stifling it for the sake of "professionalism" on my own little blog is pretty ridiculous.

Let's talk.  Like friends.  Actual friends, not those fake smile, "what can you do for me?" not-friends.

I am here.

I've been pretty great lately.  I've scored some amazing fleeces, learned some new techniques, hooked a bunch of artists up with new fiber and tools, acquired some crazy awesome new tools myself, and have even sold a few things. My family is wonderful, my inner circle is rock solid, and my health is good.  Life here has been lovely, with a few notable exceptions.  And I don't quite know what to make of them.

You are...?

I like the idea of community.  The idea that you are out there, somewhere, loving fiber and enjoying fluff and making art. The idea that we're all in this together and it's about the fiber and we're all in love with the same thing, which gives this wildly diverse bunch of individuals commonality. So when I see or experience stabbity things that poke the very heart of community, it hurts me.  Personally.  Viscerally.  When I see petty territorial pissings about who owns what ideas, it hurts me.  When I see scammers take advantage of people, and essentially get away with it, that hurts me.  When I see bully mobs snark on fellow fiber artists, it hurts me.  Even when they're not talking about me (double when they are).  When I see people use others to get ahead or save a buck or even just because they're thoughtless and self-absorbed, it hurts me.  When I'm the one getting taken advantage of, it hurts me twice.

Not double/twice/more just because it's personal, although I don't know many people who like being the target of someone else's suck.  I get hurt twice because I get the direct/personal suckfest, and then I get the more damaging effect: having my faith and belief in the concept of community shaken to the core. Yes, some jerks did some jerky things to me, and that was unfun.  But those jerks are the people in my neighborhood.  They're walking through the same fiber festivals I am.  They're selling in the same venues.  They're the people that you meet each day.  They are us, if you will.  They're my community and yours, and sometimes it's hard for me to know what to make of that. 

I'm a big girl in a lot of ways, and I have a substantial stash of big girl undies.  When I get hurt personally, I may cry a bit (or a lot, depending), but I go on.  Scarred, perhaps, but usually wiser for it.  In time, I open back up and I go back to being Kate.  In short, I get over it.  What is harder for me to get over is the idea that this ideal of community, the sense of camaraderie, was so thoroughly stomped.  That there are people in my community who don't care about community, or even see it.  In some ways, I am hurt more by the times when someone hurts another member of my community.  Mistreat me and I'll deal with you directly.  But there's only so much I can do to help the victims of someone else's misbehavior.  The feeling of powerlessness is disabling.

And that's where I've been more often than not this year (so far).  In January, I started a project: a Ravelry group I'd created to be a fun, happy, communal space.  In its brief lifespan to date, it has been dumped on by vendors, exploited by scammers, abused by and abandoned by those who've come into the space in the guise of helpers, and it now sits somewhat idly, waiting for its members and its leader to steer it somewhere useful.

I don't know where this little adventure is going to go, but I'm starting to realize that it has taken me away from where I want to be.  I don't know how much control I actually have over its direction, but I am going to try, again, to sail this ship to a happier port.  I don't know exactly how I'm going to do that, but I do know how I'm NOT.  I am not going to close this thing down, though the thought did cross my mind.  Yes, there have been scammers, and douchecanoes, and gossip trollops.  Yes, there have been users and abusers and losers.  But there have also been the givers, the helpers, the collaborators.  And there are the artists, known and unknown, professional and hobbyist.  And it is that part of the community I want to nurture, if I can*.

I don't advertise in my group.  I have a shop I could link to.  I was recently made a carding cloth distributor, which would be a perfectly relevant thing to post.  But that's not why I made that space.  There are plenty of places online and in meatspace where I can pimp my wares.  The forum is where I give.  It has always been where I give.  I give my time.  I give my organizing abilities to make the co-ops run smoothly.  I give my creations and stash as an incentive to inspire others to make and share and create.  I don't ask people to buy my things or stroke my ego or make me feel important.  I give because that's how community grows: giving. 

Can we do more of that, please?

If you've found this post, it's either because you already know me (in which case, you already know this), or you've clicked through from somewhere else and found my little corner of weird.  If you've read this far, I'd like to ask a favor of you: give something.  Not to me; I'm off limits and this is not a solicitation.  Give something, your time/a thing you made/a compliment/anything, and then post a comment or a note to the forum or a message to me to let me know.  I need to know that the givers are out there.  I need to know that community isn't just some crazy idea.  I need to know that we're all in this together, and that while we're not perfect, we're still willing to try.

I know you're out there, community!  This is a beacon.  Find me here.

* - If I can't, well, I tried.  I can be at peace with that.