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So my January staycation to date: so far, it’s felt like a month of Saturdays. Not Saturday in the sense of Wheee! A day off to relax and have fun! — I’ve actually been quite busy doing stuff for the business and around the house. I’m talking about the way Saturdays feel different from Sundays. On Saturdays, with the buffer of Sunday ahead, I usually enjoy a relaxed sense of time. On Sundays, there’s a subtle tension – a fear of running out of time to do all the things I want to do before the work week begins again.

More than anything, my January staycation has been a vacation from that time stress. I know that after this day there will be another day off, and then another one, and another.

Recently, I was looking over some of my past blog posts, and was appalled to see how much I write about Too Much To Do And Not Enough Time. OMG! I thought.  I sound like such a whiner! I must vow to never write about that topic again!

But after some reflection, I changed my mind. First, because I want to talk authentically from my life, and time-stress is a big part of my day-to-day experience. (I actually prefer the term time-hunger, which is kind of like air-hunger, the panicky feeling that arises when we can’t get enough air. I like it because it shifts attention to the bodily response I have when I think, not enough time.)

Plus, this stress is experienced by many if not most people in our modern world – you could call it a societal disease. As such, it’s worth investigating more deeply.

As my month off winds down, I’m sure I’ll be feeling more of that anxious Sunday feeling. So forgive me if I continue to go on about this topic. I don’t want to just complain, but to understand.

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I’m so excited…I’m going to India this January. Not to meditate, just to hang around and explore.

It’s been five years since my last trip there, and I always knew I would go back. So when my friend Deborah texted Want to go to India?, my instant reply was WHAT???? Hell yeah!

We’re going to base ourselves in Jaipur (think Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). Love Jaipur, a book that was recommended by a woman I met at the NY gift show last month, arrived in the mail yesterday. It had to be shipped directly from India; hence, it arrived bundled up in such a cocoon of cardboard and packing tape that it took me 15 minutes to carefully extract the book from its wrappings. “This is so India,” I thought fondly. Our soap papers come from India, and envelopes of samples always arrive taped up the wazoo like that. (When we get a big shipment, it’s usually in a heavily taped carton labeled Stayfree Maxi Pads. The UPS drivers must wonder about us.)

Of course, this trip contributes to the usual Aiyiyi! quality of my life.  I’ll be plunging pell-mell through the busy holiday season (oh yeah…and we’ll be remodeling the kitchen) and then heading immediately to India! Which is so intense, so stimulating, so exhausting!

Oh well! Life is short! I’ll rest when I’m dead.

One reason I like to write is that my mind is a busy little metaphor machine. Comparisons come bubbling up all the time, and a really apt one tickles me and I want to share it – especially when it comes to Buddhist topics that can only be approached through metaphor.

Hence, The self is like the Red Sox, and I am a self-driving car. (More about these some other time.)

Here’s one that’s been lurking at the edge of my mind lately, begging to be put it into words: The Internet is a metaphor for annata (the non-self nature of existence).

The thought arose recently when I was working with our young website designers on Summer House Soap’s new site.

I studied graphic design way back in…well, never mind when it was, but let me tell you that when we wanted to position an image or some type on a layout, we had to glue it in place with rubber cement.

Even after I migrated to digital graphic design, (I was mostly designing for print) I could position things where I wanted them and they would stay there. Fonts, line spacing, etc. were under my control. And when everything was to my liking, I’d convert the file to a PDF, essentially creating a fixed solid object.

Not so with designing for the internet! It’s frustrating to see how different a design can look on different devices, depending on what browser is used, whether it’s mobile or laptop, and so on. What I had to get used to is how the design gets assembled anew in each setting. It’s a living aggregate of pieces, coming together in the moment according to conditions.

Isn’t that a nifty metaphor for the non-self (non-solid) nature of existence?

The young seem to take this fluidity in stride because they grew up in a digital world. I wonder if that makes them more able to intuit the dharma.

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The past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like a giant to-do list walking around on two legs, full of jazzy anxiety and tension. Each day is a battle to slay as many items on the list as I can in the time available.

Nights are worse, because there are no distractions. No matter how tired I am, I am capable of lying in bed for hours, my mind cycling through undone tasks. That paperwork I should have filed! That order that’s scribbled on a napkin…where did I put it? I seem to be always on the edge of losing complete control of my life– and the to-do list is the only thing that stands between me and catastrophe.

But of course that’s not true. And in a couple of days, I’m daringly thumbing my nose at the to-do list. I’m going to a meditation retreat where I will immerse myself in non-doing, instead of doing. And hopefully reconnect with a sense of myself as a limited human being who is only capable of so much.

Sounds good!

(Of course, much of the reason I’ve had so much to do is because I’m trying to get away. There’s definitely some irony there.)

picture by Jill Ross, JustJillToday.com

Last year, I went directly from a meditation retreat in Burma to selling at the New York Gift Show, jet lag, bronchitis and all. Talk about a rough re-entry!

This month history repeated itself, though not so intensely. I returned from a week at the Providence Zen Center and immediately had to set up for the Boston Gift Show. It’s hard to go from sitting in silence to high-energy selling, but in many ways a Zen retreat is great preparation for any demanding life situation.

Just do it!  A lot of Zen practice is about showing up, paying attention, meeting the unexpected, and doing what needs to be done. Lots of opportunity to do that at a show!

Don’t know mind. I packed for the show with no idea of how our booth was going to come together. The organizers had just informed us that the booth drapes were going to be black instead of white, and I feared it would be weird and Goth and definitely un-Summer-House-y. There was no time to arrange alternate drapes…what to do? No choice but to figure it out once I got there.

Don’t make good and bad. As it turned out, our colors just popped on the black background – especially the turquoise banners — and the yellow daffodils and summery linens looked elegant. I was quite surprised.

Follow your situation. I was also surprised to find myself with a 10 x 35 ft. space to fill instead of our usual 10 x 10 booth. (There were a number of no-shows among the vendors.) I wrangled some piping for extra lights and spread our stuff out  and it turned out great.

Everything is no problem! All in all, I appreciated my new-found ability to chill when tensions were high and curve balls were flying. And during the long stretches where nothing much was happening? No problem when you’ve just spent a week sitting and staring at the floor for eight hours a day!

Don’t get me wrong…I don’t recommend this schedule if you have an alternative. But if you don’t? Just do it!

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John and I were in New York last week attending the NYNow gift show. Last year I went as an exhibitor; this time I was a buyer. Or, I should probably say, a “looker.” I did place some orders, but mostly I spent my time looking, my senses wide open and tingling, absorbing the dazzling array of colors, textures, scents, fonts, graphics  – all the facets of what’s happening right now in design and merchandising.

I’d ask myself, What attracts me? What feels fresh? What feels  a bit stale? And how would our customers respond? I was taken with the oranges and reds and intense turquoises, with moss and galvanized steel and soft fluffy spring things.

There were workshops and seminars that left me buzzing about all the things I should be doing for my business but probably don’t have time to do: Re-arrange the shop weekly!  Pitch our “story” to the media!  Send samples to prominent bloggers in hopes of getting reviewed! Update our photography!

How to digest this over-stimulation, this kaleidoscope of wonders?

Nature is providing an answer: it’s telling us to hunker down at home, surrounded by mountains of dirty snow and ice, waiting for the next blizzard to arrive sometime tonight. John has the flu. I have started to sneeze a lot. Maybe I’ll go make some soup.

What a difference a week makes!

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January is coming to an end.  I say this with some sadness, even though the weather outside is dreary and I’ve been sick most of the month.

But I love January because it’s traditionally been the one month during the whole year when I get a chance to reboot my life – something I look forward to all year long. Sometimes this reboot takes the form of a complete get-away, as when I went on a three week meditation retreat last year. This year I didn’t do that, choosing instead to staycation at home, and recoup, assess, and catch up.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past year and making plans for the coming one. I’ve also been tackling some seriously overdue housekeeping. By this I mean clearing away the detritus of the past year and restoring a little order, both in my home and in my business.

I sorted a clogged closet, for example, and hauled the excess to Good Will. I cleared clutter off of my actual and virtual desktops, and updated some computer programs. I’m hoping to empty out my inbox before the week is over. My husband is good at keeping up with maintenance tasks through good daily habits. I don’t seem to have that temperament, so an annual binge will have to do.

The truth is, I’ll never really be caught up, and I’ve learned to accept that. I regard my token efforts as more symbolic than practical –  sort of a ritual cleansing before the next season begins. By next week, the call to get back to business will be getting insistent.

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There’s a nor’easter blowing outside so I’m hunkered down in the house. No matter…this is the first real weekend I’ve had for maybe five months. By “real weekend” I mean two consecutive days when I can do as I choose – in this case, hang at home, clean out the refrigerator, restock food supplies, make a pot of soup, and read a book. Heaven.

All summer and most of the fall, I’ve spent the weekends either working at farmers markets and craft shows, going out of town, or having house guests.  It’s been a good summer all in all – some of those out days away were purely recreational, and it was wonderful to have old friends and family visit. But by now, I’m exhausted by the relentlessness of it all.

We all need a little down time when nothing demands, nothing is scheduled, and we can be as unproductive as we choose.

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A bad situation is a good situation. ~ Zen Master Seung Sahn

Staff turnover is never fun, especially in the middle of the busy season. When a soap maker leaves unexpectedly or a new farmer’s market hire fails to materialize as scheduled, its rough. We all have to take on extra work to keep the business running till the open positions are filled.

It’s exhausting, but not completely without a silver lining or two.

I didn’t get into the soap making business because I wanted to spend 40 or 50 hours a week in front of a computer, but over the years my job has gotten increasingly administrative and sedentary.

When we’re short-staffed, however, I have to get back in touch with the hands-on parts of the business – with the tactile, physical jobs that I started with long ago. I weigh fats and make soap. I get outside and start selling at the farmer’s markets, just like in the early days. It’s a nice change of pace.

And as this happens, I look at our processes with fresh, critical eyes. Gosh, this part of the operation is a pain in the neck! I’ll think. Is there an easier way to do it? Is there a piece of equipment or something that would alleviate the “pain points” in this job?

Anticipating bringing on a new person, I’m more motivated to clean areas that have gotten grubby, sort drawers full of clutter, and replace tools that have gone missing. I update instruction books that are full of notes that only the original author can decipher, and post clearer signage in the production area.

But wait – that’s not right! you might say. Why do these improvements have to wait till someone leaves! Shouldn’t they be happening continually, no matter what? Of course, of course! But I guess it’s human nature to settle into complacency when things seem to be chugging along without trouble.

At any rate, doing someone else’s job for a while gives me new insight into the work, and appreciation for those who do it. Especially the employees who hang in, keeping the ship sailing through the bumpy transition.

A friend who built a very successful business once told me that each time his business went through a big upheaval, it came back stronger than ever.  May it be so.

The other day, I was chatting with a customer in the shop about her life since her recent move to the Cape. One the things she said was, “I must like being busy, because I’m very busy all the time.”

A bell rang in my head, and I thought, yeah, me too.

I write a lot about being busy, about the anxious, stressful side of having too much to do and not enough time. What I rarely look at are the ways I like being busy.

But I can honestly say that I often enjoy having a big list of things to prioritize, juggle, and check off.  It makes me feel competent and effective, and gives some focus and structure to life.

And the to-do list this past month was vast. Not only was it our first real holiday season at Summer House Soaps (with all its decor, product ordering, and staffing tasks), but there were lots of other things to organize as well.

# 1… in a little over a week I’m flying to Bangkok, and then on to Mandalay in Burma for a three week meditation retreat. Besides preparations for the trip, there are many things that need to be in place so the business can run in my absence.

#2….At the same time, we’ve been packing our gear for the NY NOW Gift Show, which starts on February 2nd. I’m flying 29 hours back from Asia and going directly to the show. (Talk about whiplash!) Fortunately Sarah and Chelsea will set up and work it for the most part…I’m just making a brief appearance.

With all this stuff to think about over the last couple of months, I kept waiting for the anxiety to kick in, for the sleepless nights.  But it hasn’t happened. I’ve been sleeping like a baby.

Which maybe is the real reasons I like being busy – it gives me no time to be scared, or depressed, or whatever else is lurking around. Is this a healthy strategy? Probably not. But it’s been working for me, so far.

Eight days to go.

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