“if you want to live a life you’ve never lived, you have to do things you’ve never done,” say the wise in every tradition. Whether it’s applied to education, or business, or moving to a new place, change is all around us.
Change is us.
The sooner we realize that, the sooner we will get out and do stuff. And dare to laugh and allow our imperfections and just-beginning steps to be seen, because life is not so serious after all!
I am happy to say that I did something new today: I attended a free workshop on marketing, sponsored by the Seattle Small Business Development Center. The drive was very cool: first, instead of going up and over the West Seattle bridge to I-5, you go under the West Seattle Bridge and bump over a bunch of railroad tracks, vying for position with massive trucks hauling containers newly unloaded from the ships that arrive in Pier 5, of the Port of Seattle. The landscape reminds me of an Ayn Rand novel, such as the opening scene in Atlas Shrugged, which rolls into Philadelphia on a freight train. With the old steel mill on one side, and the huge salt-water port on the other, it’s a bustling, massive hive of people at work, operating machinery, building, and shipping.
“The thing that came next did not look like a building, but like a shell of checkered glass enclosing girders, cranes and trusses in a solid, blinding, orange spread of flame.
The passengers could not grasp the complexity of what seemed to be a city stretched for miles, active without sign of human presence. They saw towers like contorted skyscrapers, bridges hanging in mid-air, and sudden wounds spurting fire from out of solid walls. They saw a line of glowing cylinders moving through the night; the cylinders were red-hot metal.” (Atlas Shrugged, 27)
I find this part of town fascinating. To the east and south of here, is the place where railroads and airports converge to move goods from the West Coast to “east of the mountains,” which around here could mean Moses Lake or NYC! Costco and Starbucks have headquarters just to the north. People might find its grey cement pillars and its towering metal containers to be dreary and drab, or the atmosphere intimidating, but I find the whole scene very exciting. There’s so much action!
Anyway, you go through all that industrial area along the Duwamish River to the south, and eventually (if you stay to the left instead of following 1st Ave S. to the right, like I did on my first try) you end up on Route 509 going to Tukwila. It is a pleasant corporate campus, the Seattle Small Business Development Center. Even though I got a little off track, I still arrived on time and my heart did not start beating too hard, nor did I swear, hate myself, or start sweating.
I only got the slightest bit alarmed. Breathe in, breathe out. (The same thing I’ve done in other stressful situations lately, such as going to funeral mass for my mother-in-law, watching someone get mad, and waiting for the plane in a crowded airport).
Anyway, once I got there I feared the worst, especially when I saw that we’d all been given little booklets courtesy of Facebook. (I am not on Facebook. It seems to bother everybody, for which I always seem to feel the need to apologize. Sorry!)
The happy news to report, however, is that the free workshop on marketing was excellent and I learned a lot. The teacher was engaging and fun, hats off to Jenefeness Tucker, MBA! The people were interesting to meet, bright, enthusiastic, and engaged: we all wanted to be there and we all had something we were trying to figure out. We shared thoughts from our lives, which vary widely. Among the group was a designer of hijabs, kimonos and other modest fashions; a creator of wedding floral arrangements; two real estate agents; two people who work with realtors by staging homes for sale; an artist who has an original board game; and a business consultant. I was there representing Honey Girl Books and Gifts, as creator of “heirlooms that soothe the spirit”: children’s books, pillows, and quilts.
Which I now realize targets a clientele of educated people, likely women, parents or relatives of children age 8 to 25. She is a little worried about being saturated by cellphones (and likes the cellphone pockets in the pillow backs). She appreciates authentic craftsmanship. She wants to live in a stylish, hand-designed home and create her own family history and traditions. This I offer through quirky quilts and pillows that tell stories or pass along literary and philosophical allusions in color, prints, and varied textures.
The children’s books appeal to people who want their children to discover little-known discoveries from award-winning scholars, illustrated with original artwork. Just good parents, basically, but open to non-Hollywood stories that are produced by real people, not ghost writers and starlets. We are scholar-writers working with young artist-illustrators. (Although if somebody in Hollywood wanted to option The Frankenstein of the Apple Crate, I think illustrator Karen Neis and I’d be open to that!)
Thinking over this workshop and the other things I’ve done since arriving here July 2, I realize that the anxiety dogging my steps over the past couple months is quite reasonable. I’m doing things I’ve never done before, with different kinds of people in new places, trying to create a new business from scratch. At the same time as I’m embracing capitalism and selling stuff, attending events sponsored by the chamber of commerce, for example, and becoming curious about salesmanship, my spiritual and philosophical studies have been focused on Zen, the art of abandoning material achievement: the letting-go of ego and attachment that go with T’ai chi. These lessons are constant and make my mind feel at home, thanks to the time I spend daily on meditation, weekly Qigong class, and the arduous, three-times weekly, 90-minute classes of T’ai chi at the Seattle Kung Fu Club.
No wonder I stress out sometimes. These activities are attached to philosophies that actively oppose each other (competition versus acceptance and action versus stillness). It’s confusing! But doing Tai chi in Chinatown, sewing new things in my studio, and creating a storybook with the kids at the library: those things are simple and clear, just joy.
I remain convinced that one can start and run a small business successfully without joining Facebook, exploiting people, or thinking about money all the time. I am convinced that you can make artworks that speak to people and spread good feelings and curiosity through color, cloth and paper.
It’s a ton of work but it is way more fun than academia because of the speed, and because of the freedom to express your imagination as you wish. In academia, you sit around and talk and have ideas and meet with other people and write reports and then, gradually ever so slowly after months and oftentimes years of deliberation, a change is made. In business, you can have an idea, go get the materials to make it, create it, market it, and sell it in one week or less! And your audience is virtually infinite, you just have to figure out who they are and connect.
So that’s making my life fun. I hope you are taking steps to embrace change and make your life fun too!
And let go of ego at the same time, realizing that it is all fiction.
Are you confused yet?
Good! Then we’re all beginning together.