17 May 2016

Rebel Heartistry: Plan and Intent

Two days prior to my leaving for Round Top, TX, I walked around a quiet lake beneath a leaking sky, pondering.  The air was thick with southern humidity, fragranced by upturned leaves, the must of mud, of organic debris floating in tangles at the water's edge- the churned up ephemera of recent storms.  Every now and then the earthy, almost bitter smell was infused with a sudden sweetness. Honeysuckle.  Dense boughs of blossomed curtains hung at the outskirts of the mulched trail, ivory blooms rocking on breezes that swept down from over the pines, riding over the bogland and offering up freshness against the stagnant spring air.

My footsteps fell fast. Damp with the evidence of physical effort, rain, and mental concern, I began another mile.  After being asked back in February if I would be the inaugural instructor for a new, high end and all inclusive women's metal smithing retreat, I'd enthusiastically accepted.  In the following months, I'd developed a program that felt somehow more a calling, created less by me than by something beyond me, and while I believed in this program with fierce conviction... I wasn't so sure the students would share my enthusiasm.

I could already hear them.

"We paid money to cut up our work?"
"Among other things."

"We came for solutions and you're giving us problems?"

"Because, you wanted to be a better artist."

I closed my eyes against their (imagined) reactions. They would either get it and love it, or they would altogether hate it.  Should it be the latter, I'd be setting myself up with a rough start to a solo teaching career. 

{{Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity." -TS Eliot}}

Changing the plan, however, was going not only against everything I felt in my gut to be right, but it also went against the very lessons I was wanting to teach, the messages I was trying to convey.  I was committed.  It might blow up, but I was willing to pull the trigger.

The thing of it was (is), I wanted to put something together that as far as I know, hadn't been done on the circuit.  I wanted a workshop that would do for women what design school had helped do for me- teaching technical know-how and physical construction while cultivating problem solving, fostering idea generation, defying procrastination, focusing on process over production. I also wanted a workshop that would UNDO these women- silence their critical inner voices, begin to restructure their views of themselves and their talents, skills, and worth.  I wanted to arm them with confidence, with the tools to press on in their art despite doubt, fear, burnout, and life's alternative events.  I wanted parameters to shift as they befriended each other... I wanted some walls to fall as they befriended themselves again.  I wanted something that would serve them long after their projects went into a jewelry box or storage bin.  And, in all of this, I wanted the metalwork to support the lesson, to echo it, to give it a tangible form... 

but I did not want the metalwork to BE the lesson.

In the span of time between March and May I read Pressfield's "The War of Art" again, followed by a repeat of "Art&Fear" and "Daily Rituals" in addition to "Big Magic", "Tribes", "Steal Like an Artist", "Show Your Work", along with bits of "The Creative Habit"  and various poetry by Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver and Khalil Gibran.  I assembled a Pinterest board full of inspirational quotes, imagery and short films on everything from anti-bullying to sculpture to writing to musical composition to death and dying.  I re-familiarized myself with the likes of Seth Godin, Adam Grant, Marie Forleo and other brilliant artistic minds.  I kept a dream journal.  I kept a daydream journal.  I created a playlist.  I let all the ideas carry weight.

And I worried.  This too, however, I tried to embrace as I recognized that students who had registered were doing the same thing.  I had not provided them detailed and concrete class descriptions for our three days together, nor had I previewed sample projects for Day Three of the workshop.  Much of what the registrants had to go on was the beauty of the venue selected by our amazing coordinators, and faith.  They had to trust us despite not having all the information.  It was a lot to ask, but it was intentional. In a way, it was their first exercise.  

{{"... I believe, the number one obstacle to creative work... is not knowing.  That discomfort is ambiguity.  Artists, on the other hand, realize that ambiguity is part of the process.  They take it, they identify it, and they tackle it head on.  So, if artists are doing this... could you imagine a place where we knew students could go to prepare for lives of not knowing?" - Cindy Foley (TED talk) }}

All tools and raw materials were to be provided, in part because of the "all inclusive" styling, and in part because of that desire I had to foster their comfort with the unexpected, to strengthen their ability to think fast on their feet, to make the work WORK, despite not having all the information in order to prepare, despite not having packed their entire studios and brought them along.  We must be able to work with what we have, where we are, not always waiting for the perfect time, the right moment, to look the part, enough research, support, motivation, good days in a row, medication, sleep or even inspiration. The time to create is now. Today. As you are in this moment. This was the second exercise. 

Through all the planning, I was keenly aware that the students were not the only ones having to surrender some control. I also was having to practice trust.  To practice being comfortable with ambiguity. I felt all the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome. Who was I to talk about working through conflict?  Who was I to take on a teaching role to women who had had, in all likelihood, much more life experience than I?  Who was I to instruct at a high end venue when most of my metals knowledge was attained through trial and error rather than via a formal education? Was it all too much, too deep, too personal, too far from what they were expecting? Was it just a bad idea?

"Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it." -Steven Pressfield, "The War of Art"

Yet, keeping pace with all my fear and doubt (the very fear and doubt I was hoping to go abolish in these women), was an immense passion for this project... this... concept.  Rebel Heartistry was to me, its own work of art.  I was in essence trying to teach them what I myself needed to learn- that as artists we must make art because making is what we were born to do, it is central to our souls.  We cannot care if others love or hate it.  It's not about cultivating approval, it's about creating what matters to us. 

And so, I would.

"The best and only thing one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration." -SP, TWOA

"Instead, let's ask ourselves like (a) new mother: What do I feel growing inside me? Let me bring that forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing."  -SP, TWOA

Two days after the walk, I arrived before the sun at the airport.  The kits I'd created for the students were weighing my luggage down beyond the regulated limit.  With a long line of tired travelers behind me, I purchased a second suitcase from Southwest, rearranged my belongings, and made it to my gate as they were calling my name over the speakers.  This was to be the first of numerous hills in the topography of my plans.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I think the Heavens were looking down with all the timeless adages that a wise parent might gently, sternly instill into a reckless child. 

If you're going to throw curveballs, be prepared to hit a few...

To be continued.

10 September 2015

Success and Significance

Ha.  Day two and I'm still struggling to find the words for this one.

I always struggle with words.

Alright, so maybe I just start at the end.

A few days ago, after a nearly seven month back and forth, after hours of sample making, stone sourcing, line-sheet creating, hoping, praying, sweating, and spending....  After a half a year of communication and in what was literally our ninety-ninth email exchange...

I declined a wholesale order from Anthropologie.

* * * * *

Alright, so maybe I start at the beginning.

I had this dream since I was maybe 18 or so.  I worked in a jewelry store at the time called Light Years- a lovely sort of hippie-boho shop with home decor, candles and incense, amber, and some amazing accessories in stones and silver.  This is when I first began learning my gems by name and hardness.  This is when I first opted to take up stringing beads and when I chose to become a jewelry designer.  I was in love with the Anthro aesthetic (I totally still am), and as the years wore on and my design school education commenced, continued, and culminated... the dream to design for them grew.  It became a bucket list item.

Like everyone, I've had a lot of dreams over the course of my little life and I've learned that some are a gift when they come true, and some are a gift when they do not.  Some, so glossy and gilt in their perception, upon closer inspection, turn out to be tarnished.  What was it Alicia Silverstone said in the movie "Clueless"? Something along the lines of, "It's a total Monet.  From far away, it's okay but up close, it's a big ol' mess!"  (I personally like Monet, but you see my point... I hope.)  Anyway, I've had a few amazing dreams realized.  Loves.  Success. Independence. My son as well, who was not a dream but a surprise, and yet turned out to be many wishes come true.

Fast forward the years.  THIS dream, this wholesale account with "Most Amazing Retail Store Ever" was still in full effect this past March.  I got the email while I was in Texas teaching what was to be, for the foreseeable future, my last workshop on the road.  How perfect was the timing?  I'd be lying if I said I didn't take it as a sign.  Unsure of what the future held or how I would make ends meet without continuing my stint as a road dog, I was suddenly overjoyed.  I had my answer!  I squealed and hugged Richard Salley tight, tearing up, and showing him the words above which was the subject: "Anthropologie Interest".  It was finally happening.  To boot, THEY had found ME!  I called home in a fit of manic bliss. I'm pretty sure I knocked back several margaritas that night.

Then I came home and got to work.  (After the rodeo, of course.  Let's don't be stupid.)

In May, I got engaged.  Thank you, David Coté, for loving me through my insanity enough to ask me to marry you, even while I was neurotically swinging hammers and snapping shutters on my pursuit of capturing THE DREAM.

"The Dream"....

As the months wore on, as things settled down and thoughts settled in... I suppose a bit of the flattery fell away and the business woman in me took over.  I won't go into a lot of the details because the opportunity itself was still an amazing experience and immensely validating in some sense... And burning bridges isn't wise.

Essentially... and I'm being extremely brief... I guess I just decided that, in the end, I was worth more. What they were going to pay me was never an incentive.  I suppose I thought the exposure might have been well worth the investment of time, money and energy, and that very well may remain true.  And yet, I have been successful in my life thus far... and now, as my father taught me... I want to be significant.


What is your worth, woman?

I ask because as a Bucket List item, designing for Anthro- having them sell my rings- seeing that "An Anthropologie Exclusive by Rosy Revolver" on their website would have lit up my life.... Absolutely it would have!  But for a short while. Perhaps, maybe, possibly... it would have been the start to a relationship that could have gone further into the future, offering some measure of greater exposure and financial freedom.  The last few nights, I've tossed and turned wondering, "But what if that had afforded you a honeymoon?  Or a college fund?  Or, I don't know... a savings account!"  These things are valuable, but what is their WORTH?

I would have missed you.  I would have been gone most of the time, making and remaking the same things. Missing out on play, missing out on experimentation. Missing the conversations and emails, the invitation from y'all into your lives via the request of something custom, meaningful and one-of-a-kind.  Therein lies the significance.  I've been so behind on emails and messages for the past several months- that would have only gotten worse.  I would have missed me... the creative drive repressed at the expense of fulfilling an order identified by a barcode.  I would have been a competitor with myself, selling my wares for either more than my competition (not good) or undervaluing myself in order to stand even with my own wares being sold through another vendor (also not good).  I would have skimmed through wedding plans, skimped on time with my boy, sold my time short.  I would have short-changed myself, I feel, in trying to build "more".

Therein, too, lies the significance.

Tonight, I look around the studio.  I have all the stones here.  Agates and Amazonites all over the place.  I had the metal in my shopping cart.  I had the plan.... but... I just don't love the dream anymore.

So slowly, deliberately, and after much consideration and thought, I released the younger version of myself- dreams and all- into that lovely realm of "I know better now", and sent the conclusion I'd come to through cyberspace.

The hundredth email... was the canceled order.

* * * * *

And so I ask you again, what is your worth?  What is worth your time?  What is worth your happiness?

This is not arrogance.  This is not "I'm too good for wholesale" or "I'm too good for Anthro" in the least.  If anything, I have been immensely humbled and thankful that they somehow found out about my little southern studio.  This IS about growth- both emotional and mental.  Business growth.  Maturity.  For me, the cost was too high.  The return-to-investment ratio was skewed.  I choose my day to day, uncertain, often obscure and unknown Rosy Revolver life and brand.  That's just me, and in no way a judgement call on other artists, on Anthropologie, etc.  For me, it was simply choosing to remain...


I would urge you to hold fast to dreams, certainly, but also find the resilience and flexibility to alter them, compromise with them, or otherwise let them go altogether.  Everybody has something that they once wished for- something that now makes them cringe or balk or laugh.  It's growth, I guess.  Some people will think I'm crazy.  I might be.  I'm also honored.  And I'm also sure.

After dreaming a fourteen-year-old dream, after all the preparation and powering through...
I declined a wholesale order from Anthropologie.

It feels pretty good.