Tuesday, October 27, 2009

tokyo or bust

This morning at 10 am, a freight truck came to my studio and took the Japan order. The driver was a young eastern European gentleman who obviously thought I was insane as I took pictures of the pallet and slapped a bunch of "fragile" stickers on the wrap. He was gone 10 minutes later. I went back into my studio and cried. My studio felt very empty with this crazy, colorful order gone, leaving a big, empty space. My babies were going to Tokyo! Then I got over it about 15 seconds later when I remembered that I already got paid. I could go to Tokyo.

The order left about 10 days earlier than I planned. Almost 2 weeks ago, I was working with the clients to get the order down to Los Angeles where it would be put into a container and literally shipped to Japan. It quickly became apparent the logistics were not working out in my favor. The order needed to get finished and shipped out now to meet the ship's sail date. There was really no time to panic or get upset. I just did it. And, I was kind of glad. I had a good, strong, consistent pace going for almost 5 weeks. I was ready to sprint and cross the finish line.

I'd like everyone to take note that I have not been writing about about crazy emotional meltdowns or a growing shard pile. That's because there is nothing to say in that department. I had a few semi-sleepless nights, especially right around when I took a vacation 3 weeks ago. Thank god I didn't know about the ship date then, because I would have never gone; or, I would have gone and been a basket case the whole time. And I lost very few pieces. I fired 132 pieces, and out of that, I smashed about 4 of them. None of them cake stands either, and there were 28 cake stands in this order. I had a few that didn't make the cut, but are still totally sell-able. Right here, as a matter-o-fact.

I'm not sure why everything came out so good, but here are some theories. One, I took this order right after taking a month away from the studio. So I was kinda relaxed and ready. Two, I was very aware of keeping a good attitude, which you may or may not know, I have problems with sometimes. Especially when "good" stuff happens. Three, I was very careful. This order took some extra time because of all the layered colors that I usually don't put together, and I gave it all my full attention and never took short cuts. What can I say, it paid off. Here are the lessons, all nice, for those of us who need it simple:
  • take a break from work to make better work.
  • be aware of your attitude and work on adjusting it when necessary.
  • take your time.

And P.S.: here is a photo album of more pieces and the pack-up. It's on my facebook fan page, so while you're there, you may as well become a fan.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

random bits

This week I've been completely wrapped up in finishing the Japan order. I will do a complete post-game analysis, with pictures, next week when the order ships, a full 10 days before my original ship date. More on that later. I've been glazing, day after day, which leaves me a lot if time to think. This is a sampling of things that have happened and stuff I'm thinking about.

Today, I had a client pop in. I donated a piece of pottery to him for a fund raiser, and he was returning a display prop. Naturally, I was very busy, and not in the mood to chat. Of course, this guy loves to chat, and he especially loves chatting with artists and supporting them by passing on his acquired wisdom and thoughts about art and creating. He said to me, "Don't go too commercial Whitney. It's your unique ideas and vision that keeps you viable in this market." "Yeah yeah yeah." was basically my response as I hustled him out the door. I gritted my teeth a bit with annoyance as I got back to work, then realized that this guy is an angel, delivering me a very important message, and I best heed it. My annoyance evaporated.

Speaking of annoyed, here's another note to self: do not press "send" button on email to customers when heart is beating at a faster rate than normal and your brow is screwed up in impatience and anger. I know this already, yet there are still times I do the exact opposite of what I know is the right thing to do. This is especially true when I am under pressure from other orders-- ahem--, or am lacking sleep. Last week, I had a customer ask for free shipping because their order was accidentally undercharged by about $50. I screwed up the coding on a "buy now" button on my website. A mistake, by the way, that the customer did not feel compelled to point out themselves, I just happened to catch it when I noticed a weird product code when the order came in. Yes, I do all of my own coding and website design. Yes, I am amazing, which I felt this customer was not fully appreciating as they tried to jab me for the $12 ship charge. I denied their request, huffily, from my phone, when I was in the middle of throwing pieces for the Japan order. Why am I checking email while I am throwing? Because my phone is encased in a clay-defying plastic case, so I can. Customer insists, while asserting they like to support independent artists over pottery barn and crate & barrel, but I really need to act like them when I "make an error" by giving free shipping. I raged all afternoon and into the evening, composing scathing and drop dead emails, which I fortunately did not take the time to actually compose and send. I didn't care about the money, it was the fucking principle. By morning, I was normal again, having had a full 9 hours sleep, which also meant I didn't care about the $12 or the fact customer felt compelled to point out my errors. I wrote a very nice email, patched the whole mess back up, and remembered to deal with annoying customer requests when I'm relaxed and fully awake.

I mentioned in a recent post that I do not have time to hedge orders at the moment. This means making a bunch of extra pieces to get one perfect one. I usually make at least one extra on special orders, or on orders that make me feel insecure. Often, this one extra insures that I get the perfect set of four, or whatever perfect thing I'm trying to make. It suddenly hit me the other day that the one extra I'm making may actually be the screwed up one, that the original set may have been perfect to begin with. Hmmmmmm. Something to think about. Hope everyone has a great weekend as I pack up my Japan order! If you live in the Bay Area, feel free to stop by with pork sandwiches, beer, and apples. That's what I like. Just don't stick around to chat, or you may find yourself hustled out the door as I eat your lunch.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

earthquake dreams

20 years ago today, I was a few months past turning 19, and had been living in Santa Cruz, California for just over a year. I had moved myself to Santa Cruz from the east coast because I wanted to live in California since I was a kid, and Santa Cruz sounded like just the place that would fulfill my fantasy of living next to the ocean, in year-round temperate climate, with the added bonus of being surrounded by cute surfer boys, cute boys being the biggest weakness in my life at that time. Like most childhood fantasies, the reality of my still-new California life was proving to be more difficult and not as exhilarating as I hoped. I moved without any relationship ties or connections to my new hometown, and many of my new relationships seemed tenuous, some were even troubled.  I was struggling with loneliness, depression, and post-adolescent angst at how complicated life was on my own. Also, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, other than this vague hope to be an artist. And, I was totally broke, living in one of the most expensive places in California. I was not attending college yet, but working full-time at a popular flower shop one block off the Santa Cruz Mall, the downtown strip that was the center and hub of Santa Cruz, and was within walking distance from my teeny-tiny studio apartment where I lived alone.

When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit on October 17, 1989, I was working at the flower shop and happened to be on the phone with a friend when the building I was in jumped with the first roll of the earthquake, along with all the glass shelving inside the shop. It was like an explosion as glass shattered and the sound of the earth shifting and moving beneath my feet-- a sound I would become very familiar with over the next months—filled my ears. I screamed-- always my first fear response-- and dropped the phone. I rocketed out of the front door of the shop. I heard that one was supposed to stand in the safety of a doorway during a quake, but there was no way I was doing that. I am a former gymnast and I remember stretching my legs beneath the skirt I was wearing, leaping and bounding across the sidewalk to the parking lot across the street to put as much distance as possible between me and the building that I was in. I was certain it was about to collapse. It was like trying to run while drunk, the ground was shifting so intensely under my feet.

Once I cleared the street my next concern was to stay away from power poles that may be falling over. Also, I was alert to the ground just opening up and swallowing me whole. While I was working on keeping myself alive and unharmed, I was also taking in visuals that were making no sense to me. Like, the brick building that housed Ford's Department Store across the street from the flower shop was rolling and shaking as if it were made of jell-o. It collapsed in front of my eyes. The large picture window for the Spokesman bike shop next door to the flower shop also seemed to be made of liquid, I never knew glass could be so... flexible. The parking meter next to me was shaking and vibrating so hard I thought it may pop out of the cement of the sidewalk. For some reason, this parking meter scared the hell out of me, it seemed alive and dangerous.

All of this happened in the course of 15 seconds. You never really know how long a second is until you go through those seconds thinking you are about to die. Or, if not die, get really, really hurt. When the quake stopped, my initial reaction was to start screaming
and running around in a circle. Really, to me, that seemed like a reasonable reaction and totally appropriate for the moment. Thankfully, the people on the street around me remained utterly calm, which made me calm. I didn’t start screaming, but locked up the flower shop and walked the half-block to the corner of Pacific Avenue with my co-worker, at the very top of the Mall. I couldn’t see beyond a half block, there was so much dust in the air from disintegrating and damaged buildings. Down here, people were screaming, and injured. The sight of people digging through the collapsed Ford's store for humans buried in the rubble directly to my left was one of the grimmest sights I have ever witnessed, and made me instantly realize I had no business walking around, that I needed to go home immediately. That is, if I had a home anymore.

My home was marvelously intact, as was the rest of my life. This was suddenly a miracle, as I measured my survival against those who did not live through the quake, several of whom lost their lives on the Mall that day. There are many other things I will never be able to forget about that day. The neighbor who woke me up screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night because she was having a painful heart attack brought on by the stress and excitement of the quake. Trying to call an ambulance when the phone lines are not fully operational is the very definition of panic, and another deeply grim memory. The weirdness of the street lights not coming on when the sun went down. The heavy smell of gas in the air and the blocks of houses on fire. The party-like atmosphere around water trucks, and frankly, the liquor store.

What had the most impact on me was a complete shift in my perspective on life. We all know that the only thing that truly matters is having your health, family and friends, alive and safe. But to know that mantra, and then to have an experience which really makes you understand what it means are two different things, and up until that point I did not understand what the concept meant. This sudden knowledge freed me from many of my everyday worries and concerns as I experienced the intense rush of appreciating being alive and focused on being a support to others. The community of Santa Cruz bonded in the days after the quake, and I felt the love and concern of my friends and neighbors in a way that I never had before. The experience cemented many of my new relationships, including the one with my neighbor, JT, still one of my closest friends. JT and I became roomies for about 6 years after the quake because his house fell apart and we both hated our rent-gouging landlord. Probably the hardest thing for me about the Loma Prieta quake, aside from having to wrestle with my own terror of realizing what it meant to live in earthquake country, was the disappointment and feeling of loss as my community gradually went back to normal with the passing weeks and months.

I don't have a neat ending to this story. It's just a part of my life that I consider one of the most important things that ever happened to me, and I like to share the story with anyone who will listen. I kept a detailed diary during this time, that is where these images are from. You can click on them to read them more closely. The last thing I wrote was dated 12/7/89:

I'm having flashbacks constantly. Wherever I'm at, and the earth moves with aftershocks, I can see in my head the vases of flowers falling down, the glass cases crashing, a terrible noise with the earth roaring. However, my terror has subsided immensely, leaving only anticipation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

my real job

I've written before about how many hours I have to spend on the computer with work-related stuff, and how it makes me feel like I'm wasting time, and I get resentful. Not only do I sometimes resent computer time, I also resent lots of other tasks, like packing and shipping, glazing, popping and cleaning molds, and sweeping the floor. A lot of the time I find myself gritting my teeth and mumbling, "Where is my dang intern/assistant/slave when I need them? Why am I doing this job?"

Since interns come and go, my assistants are usually busy with a million other tasks I assign them, and I have yet to source any clay slaves, I've realized that my resentful attitude about daily tasks is not helpful to me. In my quest to improve my attitude around my work, I've started thinking of all of these mundane duties as not annoying little things that get in between me and my real job--making pottery-- but as an integral and important part of my work. Everything I do that is related to my work is my job, my real job.

Since I usually only count making pottery as working, and the rest of it is just stuff that I do, I always think I'm not working enough. This is a self-defeating mind set because I always attempt to do more than I possibly can, then I blame myself for being a slacker when I get behind "schedule," which is pretty much every day. Really, what is happening is that I think I can walk into the studio and just make stuff, not taking into consideration that I have to perform a bunch of other tasks to get there. It's like the bee who gets mad that he can't deliver the honey before he gathers the nectar. That's a dumb bee. For me, and probably for you too, it's time to start thinking like a smart bee.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

your move

When my husband and I first met fifteen years ago, we moved almost immediately to Hawaii for the summer to work and live together. Obviously, we didn’t know each other very well, so it was like trial by fire. There were a lot of challenges those months as we negotiated the terms of our relationship while (mostly) residing in a tent and dealing with the realities of living and working on Maui. That summer, Andrew and I got addicted to chess. We were so addicted, that sometimes we would play a match before even getting out of bed. We had a little travel board, so whenever there was some downtime, we would pull the board out for a game. Andrew often won, because I was basically a reactionary player. Whenever he would threaten one of my pieces, I’d panic while trying to plot an escape, and often end up losing a piece. And then eventually the game.

I remember suddenly figuring out that when I was cornered, rather than escape being my first move, I needed to go on the offense. Threaten Andrew to keep him busy for a few moves so I could maneuver myself back to safety. Manipulative, yes, and highly effective tactic to start winning chess games against my brilliant then-boyfriend. It was a complete turnaround in my mindset. This is a great lesson when dealing with the problems of a production studio, or probably any problem in life. I’ve learned that my game plan for the week is basically like my plan at the beginning of a chess game to take Andrew’s king —it’s just a hope for a particular outcome. Attacks will come from all sides: stock will run short, things you were counting on to come out right won't, or you will get food poisoning and be in bed for 24 hours and lose a whole day of work, like what happened to me last Tuesday. You can squirm and howl as you try to stay on course, or you can just start walking in a new direction.

I was thinking about the chess thing a lot this past Wednesday as I tried to recover from losing a day in the studio when I really can’t afford it. One, the big Japan order sitting in my studio like a silent lumbering Tortoro. Two, I was about to take 5 days off to go to New York City. For fun. How can I take off like that when I have this big order looming? That’s just how I roll. Not really, but I love that expression and I never get to use it. Generally I don't roll; I wobble around, fall over, then spontaneously burst into flame. And Wednesday, I was combining that with convulsive jerky movements and shallow breathing. Then, I realized I was trying to do double the work in half the time, and even under the best of circumstances, that just never happens. I needed to change my mindset, re-strategize what I was trying to accomplish, go on the offense, and stop fucking scrambling. Turns out it was easy—I just needed to pay one of my helpers in for an extra day of work. As soon as I realized that I really didn't have to do it all by myself, the jerky movements stopped and I started breathing again. And then on Friday, I hopped on a plane to New York City.