Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I've been making a lot of progress recently with my lists!  It's paying off and I am finally starting to  see real improvement.  But before I can really continue, I need to start making more room.  I really want to make my working spaces functional and less cluttered for the next chapter.  In fact, I need to before I can start.

So, before I start up the Destash Sale again, I'm going to try and clear house on existing items as much as possible.  I'm going to have a 50% off everything in my online Shop Sale!  Hopefully I'll be able to free up space in my shop for the next wave of Destash items!  Use coupon code, "SUMMERSALE" to receive your discount!

All of the extra funds will go towards purchasing equipment and materials for "the next chapter".  For now, I will keep things under wraps until they are ready, but I've got some exciting plans in the works.  (Don't I always?)  I will have to skim over the actual totals raised and not look too closely at what things are going for, because some of the things in the shop are already marked down ridiculously low.  But it'll feel good to give these lovely things new happy homes and hopefully spread a little joy in the process.  So hopefully you can find something you like and enjoy the massive discounts!  CLICK HERE to visit my online shop.  (The discount applies to ALL ITEMS in my online shop, not just the Destash Sale Section.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Art of Saying Yes...

In the last post, I talked about the importance of learning when to say no.  In this post, I'd like to discuss the art of saying yes.

My problem is that I often times say that three-letter word too much.  Being over-enthusiastic in my agreement to do things usually leads to a mountain of work and obligation not easily scaled.  On the other spectrum, saying "no" too much can cause just as many problems.  It's all about creating a harmonious balance that works for you.

I've developed another list to help me address whether or not I should say yes or not.

Can I realistically take on this project?

What does "realistically" mean though?   Do I have enough time, money, or resources?  My biggest roadblock to agreeing to new projects these days is having a lack of time.  My cup, my plate, my pots and pans overfloweth.  It's hard to tackle everything already, which makes me less likely to take on new projects and feel good about doing it.  Time is not the only resource to consider.  I once took on a commission to make bracelets for a bridal shower.  In theory, it should have been relatively painless.  But in the sample I gave the bride, I used a (rather rare and hard-to-find) vintage component.  I only learned of the difficulty in locating the pieces after I agreed and I pulled my hair out (so to speak) trying to find more.  Had I been realistic about the amount of pieces, I might have saved myself a lot of trouble.

Do I really want to do this project?  Do I need to do it?  Will this project be good for me?

It's important to be honest with oneself and really ask if they actually want to do something or not.  Is the task unpleasant?  Is it something that can be left undone?  Guilt is a big element of why I begrudgingly oblige myself.  But it really isn't fair.  It's not fair to me, the projects that are already up in the air, or even to the project that I've taken on out of guilt.  Saying "yes" to projects that you feel good about is a step in the right direction – making things more enjoyable and easier to do.  With that being said, there are certain tasks that must be done.  Avoiding them only makes it worse.  And in these cases, it's time to take a look on the bright side and try to find the joy in the task.  It's not always easy.  Albert Camus wrote about the Myth of Sisyphus and how after he gave into the inevitability of his fate, he found a weird sense of joy in his labors.  For the things that we must do, even if we don't want to do them, it's important to find something good about them that we enjoy in some small way to make it easier.

The first time I told someone about the "Will this project be good for me?"  They instantly said, "That's self-centered."  And perhaps it is a little.  But to be able to better help others, it's important to consider oneself first and really take care of what you need.  But asking yourself if it'll be good for you, isn't necessarily bad.  If you help an elderly person cross the street, it might be good karma.  If you eat your greens, it'll give you vitamins and minerals.  It's not just about personal gain or money, but can encompass a lot of different aspects.  For instance, sometimes taking on a lackluster job might not seem like a good idea, but getting in good with an editor or creative director might open up opportunities further down the road.

Will this project hurt others?

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it's not always so obvious.  It's not always as easy as asking yourself if you'd dump radioactive explosives in a children's park or not.  There came a time when I was encouraged to endorse a safety procedure that would help eliminate toxic environments in classrooms.  This on the onset was great!  I was fully onboard and willing to do whatever I could to help.  But as it turns out, the person who was spearheading this project was what I consider to be a toxic individual.  They were overly aggressive, manipulative, and demanding... basically a bully.  They created a negative environment and would encourage others with their attitudes to be mean and say hateful things.  It was hard to see past the "get-it-done charisma" and recognize their toxicity for what it really was.  Once I was able to identify the truth, it was hard for me to vouch for something that seemed to good to be true... when in fact, it was based on alienation, personal agendas, and a megalomaniacal ego.

Can I actually do it?

This one might seem like another no-brainer.  But I think it's a harder question than it might seem.  It's hard to see oneself as only human.  I wrote about that previously and how it's healthy to accept limitations.  I think that while it's always good to strive for the stars, sometimes a dose of practicality will help focus a project and result in a better outcome.  I'm totally guilty of biting off more than I can chew and expecting superhuman results.  But had I refined my original intent, I might have saved a lot of time, frustration, and needlessly expended energy.

The underlining message to "The Art of Saying Yes" is knowing yourself better, being honest, and learning to be more discriminating in the things one says YES to.  Saying "Yes" isn't a bad thing... but it should be governed judiciously.  If not for yourself – for those that you've said it to.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Learning to Say NO...

As I have continued to tackle my lists, I've noticed that several of the list items would have been readily resolved had I said NO to begin with.  While it's never a popular answer, I think people would appreciate my honesty and my being upfront than being strung along.  I have a problem with wanting to make everyone happy and even when it goes against my gut, to try and accommodate the needs of others.

Part of this I think stems from my (half) Asian roots and my rearing in the South.  It's a mix of good old-fashioned Southern Hospitality and the desire to honor one's guests.  There are certain rules about how to be both a good host and a good guest and I think a lot of these guides translate to my everyday life.  I can't stand the thought of someone coming to my house and leaving hungry or the idea that a gift isn't thoroughly analyzed for maximum happiness factor.  Or when you go to someone's house, to always bring an appropriate gift and never come empty-handed.  When serving guests, as the host, one must go last... making sure that everyone has gotten their generous share first.  Cautionary Greek myths about hosts spurning their guests have been burnt into my brain.  You never know when a god might be disguised as your next dinner party attendee.  So it's always best to err on the side of caution and be the most accommodating as possible!  These sensibilities were further enhanced by years of working in the service industry.  It's ingrained that you must bend over backwards to provide the best customer service and all-around experience as possible.  If the patron doesn't leave absolutely happy, you've not done your job to the fullest extent.

I think  another layer of my inability to say "no" comes from working in freelance.  As a freelancer, I feel you have to dig a lot of trenches that connect into your main goal.  Hopefully all the little trickles add up and are enough to keep the creative ship afloat.  Often times, the trenches lay dry and result in nothing.  You end up sowing a lot of ideas and proposals with only a few actually taking root, growing and developing.

While there are certainly virtues attributed to this mindset, it's easy to take on too much.  Days go by when I feel like I've been spread too thin.  I want to be everything for everyone and it's easy to lose sight of oneself and of the priorities.

So as I continue to work through my lists, I must go forward knowing my own dispositions and be more discriminating and judicious in the things that I agree to.  And most importantly, to trust my gut when it warns me against taking on a project that doesn't feel right.  I think that this will allow me to focus on the things that are important to me and help me prioritize.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Being Human (Part 2)...

My last post left off on the acceptance of limitation.  I received a wonderfully positive email, encouraging me to keep up the hard work and that I could achieve anything I put my mind to.

I think that the last post might have sounded like I was complaining about being tired and that the phrase "I'm only human" has somewhat less than glowing connotations.  It feels like a dirty phrase, like giving up or accepting defeat.  And I can see those words coming out of the mouth of a swarthy imaginary character, intent on pleasure-seeking and writing off blame or fault.

But to me, the idea of "being human" is a profound and humbling concept.  It has been my experience that people like the epic hero, the one that triumphs over all odds and adopts almost super-human powers.  As a culture, there's a strong emphasis on the "more than human".  Truth be told, I like it too when I've accomplished an amazing amount of work and have made things that are beautiful and it leaves people thinking, "How does he do it?"  When I get patted on the back for my efforts, it reinforces this desire to keep pushing.  I don't think it's just me though.  When I look around pop culture, there's a love of superheroes and comic book characters who are more than human.  I don't usually write about religion on here, but the fact that a majority of Americans claim to be, in some form or fashion, Christian further confirms this idea.  The word "Christian" means, "Christ-like".  Someone who can perform miracles and is the living embodiment of god... well... if that's not heroic and more than human, I don't know what is.

The point of that last paragraph was not to criticize, but to explain why it's understandable that the idea of "being just human" might sound like a "cop-out".  Society and cultural conditioning says to strive for more, to be better, and achieve greatness.

The accepting of limitations though isn't always a cop-out or giving up.  For me, it's about understanding oneself better and determining what can be done and knowing what can't.  Instead of feeling guilt or frustration for not being able to perform miracles, knowing what one can do and then doing it is far more positive and proactive.  Once one knows what the limitations are, they can recontextualize their needs, wants, desires, and what they are able to accomplish.

In painting, sometimes it helps to put a view-finder up (that blocks out peripheral visual information) so that you can see an image or composition more clearly.  Some artists limit their subject matter or palettes, to find beauty in the repetition or in the subtle variations.  People frame paintings to draw special attention to the works of art, of distinguishing this as something to be viewed.  The word "frame" comes from the meaning of to "make ready for use".  The statement, "being human" is a frame.    If I can understand what my body needs, what my mind needs, what my heart needs, what spirit needs and know what will harm the Essentials... then I can better utilize what is in front of me.  Within the frame, I can create a masterpiece and maybe if I embrace my humanity, I can create something miraculous.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Being Human...

As I was tackling my lists and crossing things off, something became abundantly clear... I'm only human.

It's a fact that I'm reminded of from time to time.  Sometimes the reminder takes the form of a fall in the subway or getting cancer, but this one was more subtle.

The reminder came at dawn one morning.  I had just put in a full day at work and came home to full day there.  I stayed up late, working on things until I couldn't possibly do more.  I kept pushing myself a little further.  Finally, I looked in the mirror and there were two dark lines underscoring my eyes.  I ignored it and went to bed.  I thought that I could get two hours in and be fresh as a daisy the next (or rather... later... that) day.

When I groggily pulled myself from bed, my body was sore and achy.  I was still tired and the deep lines on my face only looked deeper.  It's those little moments, as the early morning light pours through the windows and on to your face that things become clear.  These were the consequences.  I'm not 19 years old anymore, pulling all-nighters.  I have limits to what I can do.

Even though my desire to achieve things is certainly great, I have to realize and remember that I'm only human.  I can only do so much.  As much as I would like to toss the entire bag of pebbles into the proverbial lake, they must be done one at a time.  The journey has to be taken one human step at a time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Carrying Pebbles...

I've gone on a journey recently.  I've traveled long and far, but believe it or not... haven't moved beyond the routes of my daily routines.  You see, the journey I've made wasn't a physical one, so much as one made in the heart, mind and spirit.  It was long overdue, and like actual travel and being in another place... while exhilarating and full of curious wonder, it was also very exhausting.

I was sitting in the shop one day, working on pricing and inventory, when I made a sudden realization.  "I'm overwhelmed."  The task at hand wasn't the culprit.  But it was everything else.

I thought about what exactly was causing this anxiety.  What was making me feel like something inside me was hanging by a thread, about to rip?  What was it that made me feel so tired?  From the outside, things looked beautifully happy; my brother had returned after being missing for 22 years, the store was picking up and doing better than ever, and I was making friends in the community and setting down roots.  As I started to think harder on the topic, little things came up like the outstanding Netflix DVDs I had to put in the mail, unanswered emails, the blinking oil light in the car... and list grew and grew and grew.  Suddenly, I couldn't keep track anymore.  I kept revisiting things on my list.  I got confused.  I got frustrated and ultimately, I got mentally tired.

And that's when it dawned on me.  Carrying a pebble alone is not a big feat, but trying to carry a hundred pebbles... now that's trickier.

So my first destination on this journey was to find a proverbial bag to collect my pebbles in.

The answer to where I might find "the bag" was sitting right in front of my face.  We had just stocked an assortment of Moleskines.  If you're not familiar with Moleskines, they're a brand of quality notebooks in various sizes that come in a multitude of colors and paper kinds.  Like Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde, and Henri Matisse, I found them highly useful and wanted to offer them in the store.  My own personal Moleskine had run out a few weeks prior and I had been in need of starting a new one.

I didn't realize just how much in need I had been.  For the next hour, I started making lists of everything that I needed to do.  Little or big, I included it.  The list started to grow several pages long, but I kept adding to it until I felt satisfied that I had covered everything... or nearly everything that I could think of.  No wonder why I felt tired all the time!  I was mentally carrying around the weight of a boulder!

When I was in middle school, my parents purchased a property that would be the future site of their home.  At first it was a tangle of overgrown brush.  Little by little, my best friend, my family and I cleared the property and tamed the briars and invasive vines.  Until we removed the mass of unfriendly vegetation, the crowning jewel of the property couldn't be seen... the lake.  It was a lot of hard work, but when we finished our goal, we had a million dollar view!

Once the view of the lake had been cleared, one of our favorite pastimes became throwing pebbles (and occasionally broken pieces of concrete cinder block) into the lake and admiring our splashes.  We actually got the idea from the jumping bass that would leap up into the air to catch bugs and flop back down.  My best friend and I were convinced that the other had been guilty of making the initial splash without the other one somehow seeing it until the fish made a guest appearance by jumping over my head while I waded out to the scene of the crime.

Now that I had collected my pebbles... the task then became to toss them back to the universe.  I would get a shiver of pleasure as I put a checkmark next to the outstanding item.  The bigger the task, the bigger the splash.

The list is far from being completed and continues to grow.  But as I work my way through it, I stumbled upon a profound sense of ease.  Being more proactive in the decluttering of my life has helped take away the feeling of being burdened and has helped reopen channels of thoughts and feelings.  I could appreciate the sunset more now that I wasn't constantly worrying as things piled up around me.  Who knew that a little black book would help open the doorway to a bigger journey?