Monday, September 22, 2008

what the negative weighs

The first thing I do when I get out of bed every morning is get the water boiling for coffee, and then read whatever email came in during the night. Last week I woke up to a lovely email from a customer who was so happy with the pottery she bought from me that she wrote me an email to tell me how talented and wonderful I am. Never get tired of those emails. Then I opened an email from my blog that contained a comment from an anonymous source, and this is what the comment said:

"Your pottery is starting to look like old lady slip cast ware."

My first reaction was to laugh, then hit the "trash" button. I've had some hard comments on my blog from people in the past, but I always let them stand because I think they are valuable and interesting, even if I don't agree. This one was just obnoxious so I deleted it from the blog, made my coffee, and got on with my day.

Except... I realized about halfway through the day that the comment was haunting me. Was I wallowing in happiness that someone took time from their day to tell me how awesome I am? No. I kept hearing the old lady cast ware comment, over and over. And I was having a variety of negative feelings and responses. For instance, anger: "Fuck you!" Defensiveness: "You don't even know my work." Condescension: "Keep your negative comments to the other students in your grad school classroom." Fear: "Shit, I'm turning into an old lady." Sneering, "You can't even stand behind your opinion, you have to comment anonymously, you miserable person." And then a combination of all of the above, "Screw you, twerp-- at least I have a body of work, and here in the real world where I live, it sells! What are you selling, besides coffee?"

Finally, about halfway through the day, I had to stop and contemplate how was managing this comment and allowing it to ruin my day. I was also interested in how I was letting this comment play out against an equally positive comment, and the irony that I read both within 2 minutes of each other. I love it when lessons really smack you in the face like that. Unfortunately, I'm me, and more inclined to let negative feedback make me feel bad than let positive feedback make me feel good. I think a lot of people would feel the same way-- but why?

Negativity taps in our most basic fears about ourselves, fears that are even hard to talk about sometimes. I live with my own voice telling me I need to do better work than I'm doing, and when another voice comes along and says the same thing in such a negative way, some of my worst fears are realized: I suck. For whatever reason, the negative carries weight, it's powerful-- or rather, we allow it to be more powerful than the positive.

It's a loop, and I knew I was running on a squirrel cage and I still have some work to do before I can keep myself from jumping on on the first place. I also knew it would take a day-- or maybe two-- to shake that shit off, but I did!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the scramble

Has anyone else noticed that summer is, like, over? I used to dread this time of year because it meant I had to go back to school. I hated school from kindergarten on, which made my childhood seem extremely long. I also hated being a kid, so you can't blame me for doing nothing the first fall I didn't have to go back to school but lay on the beach and smoke cigarettes. Man, talk about freedom! I didn't get over the fall dread until about 5 years ago.

Nowadays fall means getting ready for the Christmas slam. Smart people start doing this in August. I was goofing around and vacationing in August. My assistant, Sara, was also off for most of the month. Orders have been trickling in from stores, and I've been printing them out and filing them away. Last Monday was the first real day back to work in almost 4 weeks for both me and Sara, and we had a little meeting to schedule ship dates. I was not in the least panicked about it, I was anticipating a totally organized and mellow production schedule in our future.

That feeling disappeared after about 10 minutes as we both realized our production schedule is totally full, right up the very edge. We slammed the rest of our coffee, ran back to the studio, and took stock of what we had on the shelves. I chained myself to my wheel and started throwing, and Sara started glazing. It's not quite like going back to school; for starters, I'm getting paid. But it's pretty dang close!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

open studio this weekend

Look at me, all busy, working. No, not really. I haven't been working steadily in the studio for 6 weeks, but vacation is over! It's time to get back to work! Now! I'm mean it young lady, you need to make some money!

I'm having an Open Studio this weekend so I can empty out the studio and get to work on new stuff. That does not mean I won't have new work at this sale, 'cause I will. I have my new bell jar pieces, some one-of-a-kind platters, and a few of my new lotus flower necklaces. I haven't had these necklaces photographed yet, but they are amazing, 3-d, hand built beauties. My friend, Leah Rivers, will also be there selling her jewelry.

Here are the details:
Open Studio, Saturday, September 13
11 am to 5 pm
539 Athol Ave Oakland, CA 94606

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

challenges on the customer service front

Remember how I wrote a post not too long ago saying how much I love my customers? Then I gave the caveat that sometimes you really have to tell a customer to fuck off when they are being a total pain. It's a fine line. This is an email I received from a customer recently. The person ordered a replacement plate after breaking one out a set of three. It took me a while to make it because it's a discontinued design, but I finally shipped it:

Hi Whitney, I received the new plate today and I do appreciate you going to the trouble to replicate the plate that I broke. However, the new plate doesn't really match it's partners. Not only is the deeper color wrong, which I know you did me warn me about, but the veining detail on the edges is so light that it is obscured by the glaze which appears much heavier and glossier than the original. The wonderful delicacy of the original set was one of it's most admirable qualities. I do wish I had known that you couldn't reproduce that look because if I had, I wouldn't have pressed you for a replacement. I know you tried and I do thank you for your effort.

When I read this at my vacation office in Tahoe I was instantly inflamed. My face turned red, my heart started pounding, and I immediately typed a curt return message : Send back the plate. I hit the "send" button despite years of my husband trying to train me to not respond to emails when I'm angry. He's always telling me to give myself time to manage the situation, not just react. Strangely enough, my email was not connecting and the message wouldn't send. I whacked the send button a few more times before I realized I was totally in reaction mode and I would be lot better off just deleting this email. Which I did.

I had to think about this message for a few days. The email seemed totally passive-aggressive to me. I had warned the customer that the glaze would be totally different, and now it seemed that's exactly what he was complaining about. Doesn't he realize I'm and ARTIST, not a ROBOT? It's not my job to replicate things, I whined to myself. Everyone should just shop at POTTERY BARN, I railed at my friends, people think you can just order up an exact copy and they can't deal if everything is not all matchy-match. In the end, I decided this customer needed to be sent to re-education camp along with fellow offenders. Doesn't this ASSHOLE understand that my work is unique and that's what makes it precious and valuable?

I finally composed, in my head, the perfect response. I pulled his message out if the trash and read it again, and suddenly realized it wasn't that bad. Annoying, yes. But worthy of my reaction, no. I had to laugh at myself. I can be completely nuts when I feel like my work isn't appreciated, and so defensive. I am so glad I didn't send that email, and I had a second chance to respond. This is what I wrote in return:

I can understand that you are disappointed, and I'm sorry if you thought I could reproduce something exactly. I thought you understood the new plate would look different from its partners. As you know, the plates were discontinued and I haven't made them in several years, and the glaze is the same formulation but something has changed to make it fire out differently. I can't reproduce my handmade things exactly, especially part of a set that was made together and then fired together a while ago. I hope that you can just enjoy it for what it is, and now you also have a great story to go with it. If not, you can send it back to me because I want people to love my work and be happy with it.

And of course the customer wrote back and said, no no no, they love it and want to keep it. Figures!