The Blue Heron


I’ve been continuing my daily sojourn striding around the greenery of Tucson’s biggest urban park each morning.  This time of year is stunning and unlike the rest of the country, it’s beautiful weather at a balmy 73 degrees.    I call my routine a three mile meditation, because it helps me focus for the day and wakes me from the languid pit of dreams and sleep and delivers me back to life with vitality.  My big blind dog is an ever enthusiastic companion and we have bonded in our rhythm of this daily ritual.

This morning, an extraordinary find lay among the grasses by the baseball field – a leg and talon decapitated from a blue heron – the talon was the width and breadth of my hand, dark and prehistoric with claws and feathers still attached to where it had been ripped from the body – laying lifeless and dead among the carpet of brown.

It was a shockingly awful sight at first, and it took a moment to realize what I was seeing – fresh blood dripping at the end of the leg, so it must have happened within the hour.   I thought about taking it home to study and draw.  I felt such a wave of empathy for the bird that it belonged to, that in all honesty, I couldn’t move it in case the bird came back.  I know that is ridiculous, but empathy is a powerful emotion that we make many decisions upon.   My thoughts went to wondering the scene before I had arrived.  So like all good 21st century explorers, I snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook announcing this as a symbol of the New Year and perhaps my totem for 2014.  Social media has shifted everything and this private shocking awe of a moment was shared with 400+ people in a thumb click.

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Like all adventurers, I love to find the magic in all things and particularly a totem as strong and obvious as this one – the connections that tie us together are unseen but yet are strongly visible if we want to find them.   We are all living in small and minute degrees of separation.    While social media fills a physical need to post a picture or share a moment of ridiculously cute kitties and pictures of our children and our grandchildren or clever quotes, I am not sure how many appreciated my bloodied stump and talon, but I felt that it was a great discovery.

These moments of stumbling upon extraordinary findings are wonderful reminders of the impermanence of everything and how quickly life can change.

When I googled Blue Heron totem, I found this:  

According to North American Native tradition, the Blue Heron brings messages of self-determination and self-reliance. They represent an ability to progress and evolve. The long thin legs of the heron reflect that an individual doesn’t need great massive pillars to remain stable, but must be able to stand on one’s own.

Blue Herons have the innate wisdom of being able to maneuver through life and co-create their own circumstances. They reflect a need for those with this totem to follow their own unique wisdom and path of self-determination. These individuals know what is best for themselves and need to follow their hearts rather than the promptings of others. Those with the Medicine of the Great Blue Heron may sit until the rest of us lose patience. And, when they follow the promptings of the heart, they are one of the most magnificent when they choose to soar.

With 2013 behind and 2014 stretched out like a long ribbon of road with a view that disappears at the horizon line, there’s a sense of renewal and vitality walking under the blue skies of Tucson this New Year.  I love this time to clean out the old and bring in the new and push for changes to occur.

So I’ve found my message in this morning’s totem to apply for the year ahead,  and cleared the desk, dusted the spider webs from the loft windows, vacuumed those hard to reach spots and am plotting my assigned projects for the this new year – it’s time to get back to work and I’m ready.   Box Fifty Four has kicked off with an amazing selection of new projects and opportunities to manage, new ideas to reap and sew and a long list of things to accomplish over the coming months.

I don’t like to talk about projects unfolding until they are done, I have an underlying belief that doing this can jinx a project – rather like baking, you don’t keep looking inside the oven to see how the cake is rising.  There is a science combined with a certain touch to successful cooking as there is to successful production and manifestation of good projects– and perhaps talking too much about them before they are completed is like letting a lot of hot air spill out!  I believe you have to just do them! So I’ll mention the last cake baked – at the end of year there was a nice surprise when the final box set of Howe Gelb’s solo projects arrived at the stoop of my Tucson front door from Fire Records in London.   Howe and I spent the last 4 years working with Fire on their rather immense and prolific reissue series of Giant Sand and these solo releases, and they produced and delivered the final ‘Little Sand Box’ quite beautifully to the stores in December.   That was a great way to mark the end of the year and successful completion of this project together.

I will say that now I’ve found my totem, I can clearly see what is on my to-do list for this year.   Inspired by several friends who set creative tasks at the beginning of their year, I have made some personal commitments to myself to deliver some goods that I’ve been wanting to do for an awfully long time!  Like many of you, I spend a lot of my energy focusing on assisting others and helping bring their projects to fruition – and I am immensely grateful to be surrounded by a wealth of bright talent in music and the arts, but my fingers are also itching for some of my own creative well to leak out and thrive.

A lot of times, we put everything and everyone else first.  It’s a vital part of life to be selfless and give our best, but sometimes we can forget our own creative purpose, or get waylaid through others objectives.

Perhaps we have been beaten down by life events or people around us, or unfortunate situations that have shaped our lives that have stopped us believing we are able to achieve our dreams.

Perhaps like me, you don’t invest enough energy in yourself to make time to take care and do those things you dream about.   So instead of hiding behind the curtain, which is an awfully comfortable and easy place, I am ready to fulfill my dreams of 2014.   I have my totem, the determination and the self-reliance to deliver…and I will follow my heart.

I dare you to join me!   Let’s start right now.

Birth of a box


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Over the last few weeks  I’ve moved my studio to beyond the beauty of the rammed earth structure it’s been housed in for the last four years.   Now the studio is  located down a curving brick and cobble pathway at the end of my garden,  just a 30 step walk away from home and placed in the heart of the city.

I am delighted by the idea of working in a space that is rent free, close to home and easy on the commute.   The Shed, as it was known before becoming my studio, has been full of our junk for years.  Exploding in piles, and on jumbled shelves, to a point of being unmanageable, useless objects that I treasured and no longer needed piled in abandoned chaos, hidden behind two large barn doors.   Shelves burdened of tins containing a lifetimes worth of nails and screws that had no certain future. Light fixtures, paints, tools, wires, the box of Ikea pieces that never quite made it in their intended piece  – the left overs of projects done and gone.

The space was once a potters studio, and since I had always had offices with employees and needed room for the manufacturing of bags, it never occurred to me to reclaim this space as my own.   It’s taken  a while to adjust to the fact that now, without the burden of manufacturing,  I can really work out of anywhere.   So long as there is electricity and internet.  Admittedly,  leaving the beautiful museum quality architecture of my last space at the compound was hard, but the reality of my lease being over, my friend and landlord wanting to claim it back as his high tech conference room for his business in the near future, and the reality of no overhead other than the mortgage I already pay, was just too sweet to ignore.

I have a new creative space and with it a new project I’m birthing.   BoxFiftyFour, as it is now called, is a small boutique music production house, offering independent artists a space to utilize digital and physical release of their own recorded projects or artwork through a variety of distribution sources as an outlet.   I am just in labor right now – bringing this project to play, and I’ll let you know when the website is up and running.

Why BoxFiftyFour?    I went through a lot of different names to start with, but kept coming back to what Wikipedia described  as a semiperfect number because – namely –  it was given to me – literally.

I signed up for a new PO Box for my new office, and I received Box 54.   This is an old post office that houses several thousand PO Boxes, so I imagine I inherited a little bit of history with that low number.  Then I dug around on the internet for any other reasons I could find to build on this little gift, and I was surprised by just some of the offerings:

-54 is the number of grains that can have the Chinese rosary originating from the Buddhist.

-The Pentateuch (Torah) is divided into fifty four (54) weekly sections, called Paracha or Sidra. The Paracha is read in the synagogue during the morning office of the Chabbat.

-There are 54 volumes that compose the Tripitaka of Buddhism.

-54 cards to a deck (if you include the two jokers)

-In rare cases the calendar can get 54 weeks in a year. This situation happens in every 28 years when the 1st of January and the 31st of December form separate weeks. Of course, it must be a leap year.

After this research (and there were plenty more magical 54 offerings)…what reason would I have to not name the company BoxFiftyFour.   Naming a company is as important as naming a child.   I will have to live with it through the good times and the hard times so I better like the name.    I love that this is a “semi perfect” number  and when anyone asks me where the name comes from I can use any of these reasons!

The concept of the company BoxFiftyFour came about earlier in 2013 when an artist I work with pointed out that there was not a music house in the region for independent musicians to use as a place to turn to release their music, get help with their projects and I’ve been doing this for a while for several artists – so it is more an expansion of my current projects –  and for a while there had been a few small houses emerging,  but now departed.      So I am working on my business plan, understanding the scope of the project and funding.

I’ve unpacked and settled in nicely, and those old and unloved out of sight worldly goods that cluttered up my studio are spread across the community via the large yard sale that we held last weekend.  I had no idea how much stuff we were hoarding until we pulled it out of the shed to take inventory, and it was a record breaking yard sale like no other I’ve had!   It was as if the past twenty years of my life threw up on my front yard.  There were treasures purchased on my travels, antiques bought on a whim (before the great recession), momentos of my first worldly possessions of my life in Tucson,  and tactile delights that thrilled any avid yard sale and picker.

I moved to Tucson twenty years ago with two suitcases, two dogs and a down comforter in my old Lincoln Continental (named aptly Connie Lentil) after a trip around America – Connie gave a final sigh outside my trailer door one day and only moved again once I had her towed away.

Already given up all worldly possessions twice before by choice (moving from London to Los Angeles at age 22 and then Los Angeles to Tucson at age 32) and I was surprised just how easy it was to let go again.  Perhaps it just takes practice, but once you get a taste for unburdening the weight, a yard sale is a great way to purge.   It is almost as vital as hitting the ‘refresh’ button.

I’ve been settling in and making plans, and getting organized.  My friends told me I’d spend more time in my kitchen, I’d stop getting dressed and lounge around in my pajamas all day, but I have stuck to routine – as I have for the last twenty years.  I get dressed and put my shoes on, comb my hair, and commute the 30 steps into my back yard, and open up those double doors because it would honestly be too weird to go on a 3 mile hike every morning and then come home, shower and get back into my pajamas.

Here’s to new beginnings and BoxFiftyFour.   Here’s to the shortest most sustainable commute in my life.

Smart Art?


 

smartart1I just want to do the creative work” is really a key sentence to awaken by.  If you find yourself saying this, then please think again.  I think you might have just got in the way of your creative success.   The process of learning the disciplines of business is the process of the creative journey itself.

Wanting to do only the “creative work” is like wanting to have a baby, but not wanting to deal with the yucky throw up or poopy part, or deal with the baby when it cries endlessly for a number of unexplained reasons, or care for it because it is ill.    You simply have no choice.  It’s the same in having your own business, there is no choice if you want to see it grow and be healthy.

Most of us face disciplines at some point that are often uncomfortable, whether we work at home or in a designated space.   I’m really referring to  the discipline to focus on the part of the project or business we don’t want to.

The struggle and  realities of facing real issues like keeping the books in order, or putting in the time to understand the processes, and all the while being our best creative selves is somewhat counter intuitive and demands attention.

There are a few key steps in building a business that get in the way of most creative people and I’ve hit all those walls along various stages of my journey, and I expect I’ll hit more.   With practice, those walls get easier to climb however.

How do we face a large hurdle because we believe we cannot accomplish the learning of new things because it doesn’t interest us?  My son is currently learning fractions and algebra – this is a comparative torture to me because I have the mindset of a dumbstruck school child when confronted with his math homework, and I have to spend some time working on this.

When I started my own business I really didn’t have a clue.   I didn’t know a gross margin from a gross mistake.  It took lessons and sage advice to understand this was the fundamental strategy to making a living as well as the path to smart manufacturing techniques in design.

Other enlightening and rather daunting tasks also had to be learned:  most importantly – a business plan was not an automatic menu for success, but the map towards helping me focus on the goal of what I wanted.  I learned it was a shape shifter too;  an abstract tool that relied on the user and it was not always friendly.

Within it all I had to learn the process of things I didn’t want to:  inventory, payroll, taxes, management, budgets, cash flow reports and computer programs like QuickBooks, Excel and Word, communication skills, marketing, press releases, product photography, licensing, negotiations, contracts and of course mandatory office cleanings and filing.

I knew that without these basic skills, I was going to be really reliant on others and I realized others didn’t own my business, I did.  I wanted to learn to drive the tractor so at the very least I knew what the job entailed, and what I wanted to get out of the information it gave me so that I could improve and grow.

Therein  lay the responsibility to myself to be on top of my game and to be honest about my weaknesses and shortfalls  and the things I didn’t understand, so that I could reevaluate my knowledge and get the right help and advice when I needed it.

I realized that I might have talent in visual arts, but this wasn’t going to help me be a business person.  Understanding my vulnerabilities helps focus the inspiration to find the discipline to learn what I need to be better at.

My brother Mark, a record producer with a recording studio in Glasgow, caught up with me the other day – we talked about our struggles through the journey of these parts of our business lives.  He reminded me of the Sufi saying “a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step” and how he uses this in times of facing any difficult task he’s avoiding.

When a task is so daunting because our creative selves are looking to do anything but this, our minds form an underlying dread of discipline and organization and we become frozen to the point of not dealing with it.  It’s a rabbit hole we can easily all fall into and it can be hard to climb out of.

Mark told me that on the day we spoke, he had specifically put on socks and shoes while working at home.   It made him feel more organized than doing it in his old sandals and helped him focus on the task he was working on that he really didn’t want to do.  Whatever it takes, we have to find tricks along the way to help us through what could be mundane and therefore torturous tasks.

Years ago, when I first faced this harsh reality of self-employment and it’s ebb and flow, I decided to teach myself some basic organizational skills.  There were many things I needed to understand so that I could have a foundation to build my work and creative life.

When I was learning touch typing I pretended I was learning the piano.  It made sense to me then and I found I could type much faster without looking at the keys – this resulted in learning to type as fast as I thought which has been a great tool.  The only way I could find interest in book keeping in those earlier times was to treat it like a crossword puzzle.

I had to throw myself into the process as a creative task so that I could enjoy it and understand the results.   Each element I learned stuck like glue and led me through to the next place.  Now I  admit  I actually enjoy the financial structure processes and understanding  P&L’s so that I can see problems happening in real time that can be improved upon.

Warning:   “Real life business skill sets are vital to your health”.    It’s a hard truth for us that like to think the creative part of our work is the most important, and compose images or record music or make beautiful things, rather than prepare, strategize and map our business plan for the next five years.

The process of learning seems the most poignant of all on the road to building a successful creative business, in any area.  And hopefully, we don’t get stuck in the comfort zone of standing still, where we are afraid to reach out beyond the safety of our own worlds.

In times when the phone rings less, the emails slow down or you have just finished a project and have a break between the next, don’t sit around panicking about the slump.  While you deal with the next project or improving your portfolio, get that learning hat on.  It is challenging, its fun and I bet you’ll be quite surprised at yourself.

It’s one thing to be able to design great art, write great songs or have a great idea, but without the knowledge of how to follow through and implement the process, it’s a pretty limiting talent.  Improving business skills is a vital tool to improving the quality of our work productivity and our creativity.

You’ll never say “I just want to do the creative work” quite in the same way again once you start this journey.  Then you see it’s not about that great idea,  but about the process of getting there, that every step of your journey has led you to a better and smarter place.  It’s the foundation for your future and your success.

What’s In A Story


 

My office sometimes feels like a therapy room.  There is a lot of talk around here about what takes a really good idea and turns it into a really great idea.

It’s the question of what makes a good presentation and what some of the best ways are to open the doors to an opportunity that could carry a light bulb idea through to a commercial success for a business venture.

I worked in Hollywood for many years.  It was not a place full of good advice, but I did leave with some.  When working on “Bill & Ted” I met with the producer.  He gave me a few tidbits, one being that my ego wasn’t big enough – which I have since taken as a compliment but at the time was mortified, and a second piece of wisdom that has stuck with me all these years.    “You only get to knock on some ones door once to make that first impression, so make sure you do it right.  The second knock is never so effective”.  Simple in theory, but hard because sometimes we just don’t quite see the big picture and we focus on only one part of the puzzle.  At that time I was focusing on the art of film and music and not the commercial venture set out before me.

Fast forward 20 years.  His advice resonates.   An artist who I greatly admire stopped by last week with her project – a series of drawings named ‘365’. She had completed one full drawing or painting every day for a year.  I was impressed by the concept alone and the results were remarkable.     She had created a great body of work, with the first round of sharing this project presented in the form of an art exhibition showing some of, but not all her drawings and paintings.

She then formatted a selection into postcards, note cards, hanging mobiles and the art show made the local gallery circuit.    She came to me looking for some thoughts as to the next step and how best to present it as a more commercial venture for the gift market industry.    She had compiled all 365 sketches and created a self-published book through an internet printer, all beautifully laid out, with the drawings chaptered by month so you could really understand the evolution of the series.

However, I noticed she omitted an important detail that struck me as a hole in the project, but was not so clear to her during preparation.  I wanted to know her story and of the origin of her idea, along with some understanding of the emotional and very human process of making such a commitment, none of which were included in this book.    I really wanted to understand the process, the pain and the glory.  A drawing a day sounds fun as an artist, but in process you can only imagine there were days when you just didn’t want to, that you must have suffered at some point.  What about when you got sick, or for all the hundreds of reasons we make not to do things.    I couldn’t imagine everyday was easy and she responded in laughter, telling me how hard some of those days had been.  Without this detail, the project was only 2 dimensional to me.

Her concept reminded me of the blog that had inspired the successful film “Julie and Julia” in which an enthusiastic cook decided to cook a Julia Child’s recipe every night for a year, no matter how hard, and keep a blog of the process, thereby materializing a great story that went beyond the scope of her original intention to focus on the food, and transcending the venture into a story about the struggle and trials – making it outstanding because of the story and the process of her challenge,  and in the long term it turned a simple idea into a story that resonated.

This meeting echoed the theme to transform ideas – the best presentation of a project is that of it’s authenticity (with a touch of humility to remind you and your audience that indeed we are all human and can relate).  The story behind the project is the key.    If the story isn’t interesting,  then the lack of luster gets it lost in the great ocean of many.

My first real experience of this was with my own project:   Vy&Elle, a company that started as a thought with a couple of friends back in the early 2000’s.  We started designing and manufacturing bags and accessories made from reclaimed vinyl billboards that where laying around the salvage yard that one of my partners ran.

I believe that the main success of this decade long program was in the story of the product itself (and with a lot of hard work and help).   We saved over 250 tons of used vinyl billboard from hitting the landfill by reusing it and repurposing it, giving the user a sense of owning something unique and a story worth sharing.  It was new to the US marketplace back then and while we saw a lot of original ideas at market, this one was vibrant.

Although the recycling element was a key part, we knew we weren’t going to “save the world”  with our little project, after all,  over 1M tons of billboard are produced a year worldwide.  We did however recognize the specialty and strength of the design process and what the product was  -  it shouted “look at me, do you know what I am?”   With the tag line “who knew? “ as part of the label text, because I lost count of how many times I had heard this expression from people I was showing the product to.  We utilized the strength of the story to help market and place the product into over 2000 stores worldwide during it’s lifetime.

We had the quality, form and function, but with a twist about seeing something from a perspective we could all relate to.  It made you think and ask questions.   At the beginning of the project most people didn’t know that billboards where vinyl.  By the end of it, the industry was recognizing the environmental impact and looking to startups like ours to help build their green corporate citizenship, and turning to less heavy toxic material that would break down easier in the landfills.

Ingenuity in branding and packaging builds roads that take you to new and interesting places.  Some unexpected twists and turns are a certainty, and you’ll need a dose of fearlessness to get you there.   We only get a few seconds to make an impression that could change the course of the project because we’ve connected with those around us that can be key people in bringing it correctly to the marketplace.    Then again, sometimes we are just not the right fit and that is good to know as well.

Ask the simple question what would make me pay attention to this?    Without a connection to the authenticity and story, a project is hard to see through the clutter.   I’m still trying to work out why  “Bill & Ted” was such a huge success, but I guess I will have to accept I’ll never get that one.

Knock once, knock loudly and have something to say that people want to hear.   It’s not always the right fit for the right person, but it’s always a really cool challenge to have your project pitch perfect.

Published 2/2013 Pyragraphy.com

Check out my other blog entries at http://www.pyragraphy.com

 

A case for endless reinvention.


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Creative writing has always been my secret lover.  I’m a closet writer. I’ve kept journals since I was 11 years old, and only paused when I had a child.   So I have returned to it like moth to a flame and now it comes more easily, and I’m less in a closet and more open about this secret passion.   Writing has a way of bringing an opportunity for a thought process that ends hopefully in a conclusion, and with no formal training it’s always a continual process to understand the art of successful structure versus rambling (which I love to do).

A large part of my work these days seems to come back to this process, because I spend a lot of time discussing and directing marketing strategies for artists, musicians and creative companies and also find myself struggling with my own process in my own business.   The creative stream of consciousness is a process of ideas that form abstract order and demand that we address the ever shifting flow of information in which we choose to share our work.

When it comes to building and creating an album, a book, a play, an artist’s name or a company looking to expand its audience and income, it is important that building the story with authenticity and some humility is essential so that we can relate, and those that interact can relate to us, that without it we are just another product or project in a world so full of media madness we go unnoticed.    In my world of branding and marketing, it is not just packaging or a logo,  but a lifestyle that has to rise above the fast paced chatter and pull its viewer or listener in and demand their attention and bring some self awareness and most importantly an enjoyable experience.

The challenge is to keep up with the speed and flow of media format and trends and work ahead of the game.  It’s an ever evolving process which I find not only applies to my work but to my life.  Beyond the veneer of pretty packaging, lies the reality of this urban shift and those demographics that hold the key to an ever moving focus and need for growth within our processes.

It occurs, as I review and digest other marketing and agency directives,  that staying fresh and being open to the flow can be hard.   Companies prefer the ‘safe’ zone,  some completely denying this evolving nature, and it seems to block them from their own growth and steer them towards demise.  While others embrace it with a passion that brings the ideas to the forefront.   Innovation is the key to unlocking those that have fallen into the safety zone.

In order to grow in today’s socioeconomic soil we must continually reinvent and reshift our values and reach beyond our own expectations by learning new things, opening to new ideas and being ready to take action as needed.    The ‘great recession’ has been a gift for me to diversify and understand this process, as an ever evolving state and I’m not afraid by tripping up along the way.

This brings me to a memorable  meeting earlier this month with a company that I was truly excited to see if I could help.  I had reached out to them months before because my gut was telling me I could help them reach beyond their current audience.  It took some time to get a meeting and just getting my resume on the GM’s desk was in itself a large task.   I finally asked my friends who work within the company’s guarded walls to help me get a meeting, and a few weeks ago I received an email out of the blue, and the date was set.   I was looking forward to it.

I felt I had much to say that could be helpful, much to ask and really was anticipating an open conversation about a vision and directive.  I was envisioning a company with a vision.  I planned, took notes, read reports about this specific industry and the impact from the latest downturn in the economy.  I felt very prepared and excited by the opportunity to meet the GM and discuss their marketing.

Things somehow did not go as planned.  Really – it was a truly awful meeting.  It was actually the first meeting I have ever had where I appeared to just piss someone off within the first 10 minutes of arriving.  I’m not perfect and am not always on the top of my game, (although I was feeling good that day and thought I was). I believe I know my stuff and I also know that I know I don’t know it all.  I walked in with confidence, looking forward to this, and I felt prepared.    I had some thoughts and ideas I wanted to express and what I thought were genuinely good questions, and it appeared the GM was not quite as prepared as I, and did not really appreciate my open approach as a stranger to walk in to ask questions.   It also appeared that he had not so much glanced at my background experience on my resume, and was not anticipating a conversation but more a conventional job interview for a Marketing Director.   Maybe he was also just having a bad day.

Sometimes it is just not the right fit I know, but I was taken aback by the nature of the meeting and it has been on my mind ever since because it raised the question as to the best way to approach a company or audience that has become  isolated in it’s own culture it no longer sees beyond the stone walls that it has surrounded itself with.  Hidden in the safety zone. (Safe that is for the time being).

I sensed that he felt my questions were more of an antagonist approach from the get go, particularly when he referred to my question as a “complaint” about the company and it’s goals – and he used the word “complaint” while looking down upon me with the face of someone who had just sucked a lemon.   I refer specifically to the moment when I told him I had been a part of his audience several times over the last year (this is a local company with a regional presence), and how much I had enjoyed my time,  but noticed everyone there were older than I (over 50) and had he considered reaching out to a wider demographic?   His response was underlying annoyance.  Did I know what I was talking about?  I thought I did when I went in, but apparently I didn’t now and he was letting me know in no uncertain term.   It was here I was seeing the car I was driving had left the road and was now veering off towards a precipice and I appeared to be going over that cliff.   We moved on.

I continued.  Had he considered social media and building the rapport with a wider demographic through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and open his audience to a younger choice of programming aimed at the 30’s age group?   It was clear on research that the company Facebook presence was lacking in outreach.    Clearly I had now completely left the ground and had headed over the cliff toward the valley of no return.

At this point there was nothing to lose, this was obviously a complete disaster,  so I continued.   Had he considered expanding the educational portion of the program by targeting beyond his current focus of  high school and university students and create programming for the younger children (Elementary through Middle School) – a large part of our cities community that was vibrant and in need of this type of outlet.   Also, had he thought about promoting master classes through YouTube? – another source of revenue with a growing market.

I think he possibly rolled his eyes.  I was now a stain on the other side of the table and he had the look that he was way too busy to sit here and listen to me.  Alas, I had now fully crashed into the bottom of the canyon and my chances of being helpful where long gone.      He stopped me in mid sentence, and told me that putting a few more posts on Facebook was not going to bring in the 30 something crowd, that they made too little money and had no interest in his particular business because they had babies and were just too busy going to music shows.

I might have gasped,  but I shifted back into the seat as deep as I could and sat back a little stunned.  My inner voice spoke, telling me to just open my ears.   So I listened, I listened carefully to his choice of words regarding the job of his Marketing Director, his description of the 50 hour work week and the enormous amount of travel (to a city 90 miles north of here) involved – said with a twinge of annoyance and question as to if I could even manage such a long work week and arduous travel.  I didn’t mention that I travel all over the world, and I didn’t mention that a 50 hour work week was the least of my concerns.  He then asked me if I had ever worked in media, ever worked with an art director  (both of which I’ve got a great deal of experience in) – he held my resume in his hand, but didn’t look at it.  I responded respectfully.

At the end of this portion of our meeting,  he asked me if I had questions, and I asked about his approach with  his employees contributions to the well being of the company.  Was he open to staff that could be included in his decision process, and was there room for a Marketing Director with a vision, with ideas who could contribute to the betterment of his company?   He answered that he allowed those around him to participate but he made the overall decisions, for example the quality of the paper for the printers, because he said, we are a company of quality and we must reflect this throughout.

It lasted an uncomfortable 30 minutes, and I thanked him kindly for his time.   As I peeled myself out of my chair somewhat shaken, and walked to my car, I realized that I cannot open doors if there are none to be found.   It was stupid of me to think I could shift the reality of a culture in one short meeting and this business model was not one that was open to others ideas – that they had to be that of the GM himself.    I did hope that he might remember the woman who came and asked questions that he was appalled by.   Hoping he knows that being stagnant in the marketplace is like the kiss of death to a company that needs to drive a larger audience.   But he gave me the strong impression that this was not his goal, that he relied heavily on the donors and grants the company now received to support  the company, that he did not rely on the audience beyond.

So OK, I admit,  I might need to improve my approach to walking into a business with my so called bright ideas and naivety about a GM’s personality, and where those that have forgotten there is an outside world beyond their own culture, have become delighted with their own bureaucratic nature and sense of importance.  While I left rather stunned by the meeting, it actually reinvigorated my thoughts regarding adaptation and change and I walked into the daylight, back into the fresh air.

No matter who or what we do, we must continually reinvent ourselves, we must continue to get better at and must educate ourselves and learn new things and be open.    We must also be accountable, not just to board members, donors and sponsors,  but  to our audience, to our fan base and to our own beliefs in the creative spark that makes us  produce the best that we can.   To remain authentic and real so that even if we don’t agree to agree, we can have open dialog without fear of reprisal.

 

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A pathway to curious fearlessness. Happy 2013!


winterWe’re taking down the lights, recycling the tree and noticing how tight our clothes have gotten since the eating holidays began (which you have to admit start at Hallows Eve).     Another year flashed by and here, in my very clean and reorganized office, I’m ready for 2013.   It’s been a hell of a year.  One fraught with challenges, but I really did learn that what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger, so thanks 2012 – it’s been interesting knowing you, but I’m kind of glad you are over.  You were full of diversions, excursions and exclamations but we ended the year healthier, happier and very much the wiser for it all.

I use this time of year for a few weeks off from the daily work load to spend time with family and friends, to focus on cleaning, organizing and regrouping my creative focus for the year ahead, and setting myself some goals and new dreams.  It often doesn’t unfold as I think it should as each year has proven, but it does help me create a space for all things new and getting rid of that which doesn’t work or is old and no longer relevant in my life.

I traditionally start this process coming into the studio over the week between the end of year holidays and dusting, filing, throwing out and cleaning my space completely.  This takes a few days since I’m a lazy cleaner, and I let the dust bunnies build up for months prior.   I move furniture, rearrange the flow and clear the clutter, put away the projects that I thought I wanted to do but didn’t, file the paperwork that is no longer needed (mostly in the recycle bin) and start the year with just those last few projects I want to get done that didn’t quite get finished in December.   It’s a cathartic time of renewal.  I love New Year for this.

While I make lists of what I want to get done over the year ahead, and focus in on specific achievable goals, I realize the list is way too long and I edit it down to the changes I need to make both at work and for the house.   Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the dreams and wishes, I try to put it into an organized collection so that it can be really accomplished and not just another resolution unfulfilled, and its inevitable feeling of dashed expectation.

My list includes things such as painting the garden walls, replacing the truly horrible electric stove top at the house with a fully working gas stove (try cooking for 15 people on a two ring electric burner that won’t regulate its temperature), tiling the kitchen,  all pretty easy if you can keep the eye on the prize.

It’s the work list that becomes more the challenge, thinking about what it is I want to achieve this year for the long term, let alone the next 3 months.  What goals I need to set to make those happen.  It’s so easy for most of us to float along in life, with the ‘one day’ attitude, but I have a slight aversion to this approach these days.  As I’ve been a floater most of my life and at long last I’ve realized that without a plan these dreams will never come into fruition.  It’s like I need a business plan for my life.   It’s pretty easy to put into place but it’s incredibly difficult to stay on task and the one way to really achieve success at resolution is to have a structure to refer to along the way.    I have several ways to do this, but the initial planning is crucial to the process.

I hear you groan, I know you read this all before, but without an action plan, life just keeps giving me the same because I just keep doing the same.   If I really want to make it happen I have to take action and I’ve realized this is the only way to reach whatever goals I have.     Now I find joy in my planning and feeling a sense of accomplishment when it is achieved (although implementation can be very hard along the way).

So I’m setting up my 2013 calendar, making lists for my clients and what I need to do for them and for myself.  Yes, I am also thinking about my financial goals, my child’s educational goals (like getting into a new school for Middle School), about that trip I would love to take with my family this summer and how I’m going to get there from here, and thinking of abundance instead of worrying about how I’m going to do it all.

Yesterday, we got a chance to slip out of town to the incredible wild terrain of Madera Canyon to find a sparkling land of snow and ice – something so different from our everyday blue sky bliss here in Tucson  – and hike some of the trails in the backwoods.    It was packed with likeminded thinking city dwellers, and the car park was bursting with sleds and slickers in their new snow boots and rangers handing out tickets.

First we took the high trail up towards the silence of the frozen mountains – the visitors fell behind us as we climbed until we were all alone – just us caught in the magic of silence and snow – the trail was rocky and icy and difficult, and we were really ill equipped with our city style shoes (here’s a great example of lack of planning), one bottle of water and pack of chips, so we finally turned around and slid carefully down the trail as the boys jumped into the snow banks and made angels along the way.  We decided to take another path by a creek further down the mountain where the snow pack was melted, and it was cold and in the shadows of the climb where no mountain visitors went.

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The boys chattered and ran ahead and our blind Landseer stumbled and bumped along the pathway into rocks and trees (even on a leash).   My job was to make sure he didn’t fall over the edge of a bank or walk straight into a boulder or tree.  At the end of the segment of this trail, I decided to walk back to get the car so that the rest didn’t have to walk the steep rocky terrain again and I would just pick them up at the end of the trailhead – the sun was setting and it was frigid and that time just before dark.    It was about 15 minutes into my solo hike through the silent trail, with just the sound of falling ice from the trees- and I heard a ruckus suddenly.  I know this is bear country so I hurried along and scanned the woods just hoping that a bear wasn’t about to appear.

As I turned to my left just 10 feet from my path was a large pack of about twenty very tall Goulds wild turkeys squawking and hollering as they watched two males  in their pack fight.   It was astounding because it was so unexpected, and I held tight to my lunging mass of 90lbs of acutely aware dog and dragged him along the pathway out of the way.  A safe distance further along the path, I turned back to watch the chaos of the scene unfolding among these amazing birds. None had taken any notice of us.  These turkeys looked huge – and nothing to mess with when fighting over a female.  They are the equivalent size of my dog, if not larger, and I recently learned a lot about the wild turkey in an amazing documentary on PBS telling the story of John Hutto who lived amongst them in the backwoods for a year.   If you haven’t seen it – its should be on your list.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/my-life-as-a-turkey/qa-with-naturalist-joe-hutto/7389/

My PBS moment just paid handsomely – (and yes it was indeed a Big Bird).    It was an astounding vision in that dark cold canyon under the shadows of the oaks alone, and it reminded me of a fearlessness we must carry in our hearts along the paths of our lives.  That a  continual state of curious fearlessness is really a good tool.

goulds wild turkey

I hurried to the car, anxious to tell my family what had happened, and to realize just what I had seen only a few feet away from me and to be reminded (once again) that the key in life is not in the outcome,  but in the living it every day fully.  In the knowing that you can work to shape the path you walk, that unknown things will come along to shift it, but you will stand stronger if you are curious and not fearful.   It was a clearl vision for a New Year’s Day and for my state of mind.

Happy New Year to you!  Plan a pathway, and if you encounter some squawking fighting big birds, or anything just a little or extremely dangerous,  just get out of the way and stand back.  Prepare to be amazed.  The pathway continues ahead.  Now back to my lists.

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Hollywood to Halloween..


So you might have been sent to this website after typing in vyandelle.com – So much has changed since the first creaks of the recession but things change (always for the better), one being vyandelle itself.   You can read more about this by clicking on the Billboard Bags tab page above.

Beyond and onward – welcome to my blog.  Home of all things unbaglike.   I’ve drifted off for a few months into the pages of music publishing, and a few weeks in England visiting my mother.   It’s time to catch up with you.

Firstly, my very talented sissy in Los Angeles, is a fantastic fashion designer and US based clothing company (and my stylist, because with her I would have no clothes!).   Check out www.greendragonstyle.com.  I think you’ll like it!

I start here because she and her family put me up on my recent visit – where I went to attend the Billboard Film&TV Conference www.billboardevents.com/filmtv (at the West Hollywood W Hotel) to listen to some great panels talking with composers, producers and directors.    It’s always good to see her and stay at their  house.  Home away from home.  Sister alliance is invaluable!

As much as I thought the conference would be something it wasn’t (funny how I always pigeon hole these events before with my expectations – which are hopefully dashed upon arrival) – it was a really useful informative 2 days of listening in to some very creative conversations and concepts.

Highlights I trully enjoyed:    listening to Vince Gilligan (Producer) Thomas Golubic (Music Supervisor) and Dave Porter (Composer) talk about their show and how they work on that brilliant show ‘Breaking Bad’.     Graham Parker talking about his new role in a Judd Apatow film, and composer, Mike Andrews talking about his work on “Girls”.     Danny Elfman gave a great talk about his latest film score with British director Sasha Gervasi on the upcoming release of ‘Hitchcock’ which looks to be amazing.   And seeing both Nick Urata playing his end title song from ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, and Gustavo Santalalla perform part of his score from ‘Broke Back Mountain’ was all such a treat.    Thanks to Billboard’s Bill Werde for a very interesting and diverse conference and making it such a first class event.

One of the many reasons I went on this trip was to visit with a few of my old friends who are music supervisors, and make some new friends along the way.   Many of you may not know that my past life before billboard bags (not billboard magazines) was as a music supervisor in Hollywood, in which I got to have a wonderful career placing music to film prior to taking a left into the design world and got a bit side tracked.     Earlier this year I joined a really good team of people at Modern Works Music Publishing as the Creative Director. Alongside my work with a small stable of musicians I have worked with for some time – it has been like putting on an old jacket that is very comfortable and seems to fit still very well.

It’s been a weird few years of transition back to this place.  Not bad weird, just weird in when I’m asked what I do, I’ve found it hard to explain as a job title.  (We entrepreneurial types are hard to pin down).  The bag business was so much easier to explain…it was somehow less abstract….but now I have taken the big step out of that and into new projects, finding my way with some great skills and tools that I picked up along the way.    My main focus has been all about Modern Works these past few months, and understanding the catalog we administer, the artists that we can license music for and the music itself.  (it’s a bit like a big Christmas present now I have the bigger picture and it just keeps getting better).     With clients like Bootsy Collins, Alison & Viktor Krauss, Andy Summers and Brad Mehldau – to the Second Floor Music catalog with music from Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and a wealth of the very best in jazz and Latin music, as well as great alternative artists like Mr. Gnome, Willoughby, and Howe Gelb and Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkestra – I have been in deep listening mode and tooting the horn mode.      You can check out the website at www.modernworksmusicpublishing.com .

And then there was Halloween – they came in droves, in all shapes and sizes – plundering and tripping in costumes through our annual homemade crypt of horrors and many good friends and family made it to our annual party.   I think we see about 300 children over the night itself.   Probably about 30 + children at our party.

We bought our little ranch house in a neighborhood in Tucson that just lends itself to putting out the Halloween spirit, and since we closed contracts on the house on a hallows eve back in 2006, we have been putting on a party so that the children and families have a place to come and hang out, go trick or treating and a place to come back to after.

We go to town because really, there is nothing like seeing the kids having so much fun, and getting the parents together and a place to land –– we have the decorations  - so why the not!  (Although I do admit – we have given up on a varied set up – there goes Marcus the Carcass, eating that plastic bloody foot at the Gone to Lunch café again).

My son Eden decided this year he was a zombie wearing a gas mask, a popular theme it seems at age 11 – all his friends came in hoodies and gas masks or with some weapon made from cardboard tubes and taple.     It looked more like it was a war zone but they had a real gas of a time!   He and his friends were not in the cute scale like our two new grand babies or our friends younger children dressed as bees, super heros and kitties.     There were some brilliant costumes this year  and kudos to all those that dressed up – some really good dead brides, a vampire state building (best of the night), and I was especially proud of my paint chip belt which was my attempt of a costume for  ’50 Shades of Grey’.

Two days set up for 4 hours party and then the candy wrappers explosion all over the backyard!  I have made a pact with Mike this year.   We both agree that by the time Halloween falls on a Saturday (3 years from now) that will be our final blowout party for this holiday event (heads up friends) – Eden will be 14 and we’ll have gotten all the use out of Marcus the Carcass we can possible bare, and Eden will be rolling his eyes at it or us.    We can pass the legacy onto our grand kids that’ll just be the right age to carry the torch.

Yesterday, if you didn’t notice per chance,  was Election day (rather similar to Halloween if you live in Arizona as a registered Democrat).   We survived, but not without watching most races we hoped would win, lost to those with strange ideals about public education and prisons and gay rights.  It was a messy debaucle for Arizona legislation.  I won’t discuss politics here (yet) because we are all exhausted by the 2 ½ years of campaign rhetoric.   All I can say is ‘Gone with the wind, and thank God it’s finally over’.

Welcome back Mr. Obama.  I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, but my son asked me to ask you to  please enforce a ‘Chuck Norris’ day.  I said I’d ask…

Well hello there Mr. Coyote…


I can feel  Fall slowly pushing its way into the late summer air.  This is quite a feat here in Tucson – where it’s considered cool at under 100 degrees this time of year.   It brings me to my early morning walks for which, while I have a hard time rising at 5am, pull me out the front door and into a beautiful world of dappled sunrises and dank monsoon landscapes as I stride 3 miles a day through urban secret paths to the largest green park in the city.   It is a new habit I have worked hard to muster, for I secretly would chose not to be a morning person by way of natural lazy habits and late nights.   But since my partner doesn’t have the ability to walk fast or far since his leg broke in June, rising early to walk our dog  has been given to me as what appears to be rather a gift, than a chore.    While I still struggle to get out of bed at the first sign of sunrise, once I’m out the door with my dog on the leash, I’m so glad to be.

It’s this magic time which has introduced me to a coyote, who I frequently run into as my large 90lb half blind Landseer dog and I stride along desert paths.  My first time was a few months ago, and I exclaimed aloud “why hello Mr. Coyote”.  OK, I know this isn’t a Disney movie, but it was my most immediate response – and he paused to take a look – long enough for me to snap a picture.  My dog doesn’t see him, but I do – every day now for the last month.  He seems to live alone, which is unusual for a coyote, and appears to be a yearling at most.   He is quite beautiful and at first it was hard to see him hiding in amongst the prickly pear and bos-que, but yesterday I found him running from a house in the alley with a chicken coop in it’s backyard – I heard the hens cackling and there he stood – 5 feet in front of us, staring me down.  I stopped and looked him in the eye but he didn’t  move an inch, so I took a step forward – keeping my very large dog close by my side, and the coyote swiftly turned around and trotted down the pathway in front of us taking a right turn under a large shade tree and through a crack in a wall.

Today, as we entered the sweeping lawns of the city park, there he was shuffling through the picnic tables searching for snacks.  He was running from table to table, at one point drinking from a can of soda.  Being cautious I set my course for a different direction than his, I didn’t want to send him close to the main road that runs alongside the park, where traffic was thundering as commuters headed to work.  I sloped toward the baseball fields and went beyond a hill, and turned again, there in front of me – 100 yards away –  he sat.  Looking at us, wearing his coyote grin,  I stood to watch him.  He lay down in the cool wet grass and watched us right back, then sat up again – and after a good 10 minutes slowly stood up and took off toward the way we had come – heading hopefully to his desert hideaway amongst the sprawling fancy houses of the neighborhood that border to the park.  “Quickly Mr. Coyote” I whispered out loud,  before any unsuspecting owners with small edible dogs became too much a temptation.   I found myself curiously concerned about the coyote.

I’ve walked many deserts of the southwest, but I’ve never seen a coyote such as this one.  Tamed perhaps by his environment – we are in the middle of a big town, where rabbits and lizards are plentiful and the wash runs parallel, offering hidden chances to mingle wild with domesticated.  Many cats who are allowed the outdoors don’t last long around here, and you can often see tufts of leftovers along the side of the wash, or watch Javalina roaming the neighborhood looking for scraps, or gamble quail racing through the cactus in the front gardens.    But I remain always surprised  at the magic of our  encounters.   Luckily my dog has only half sight only in one eye, which makes him miss many of the run-ins and encounters with the wild, and he just lumbers along head down, sniffing his way  and enjoying the morning air. Rabbits can run right in front of him and he won’t notice until they’ve turned a corner and are well out of sight – too late to take chase.

I promise, I won’t be getting too close, but I will be on the lookout.   It really is such a pleasure to watch him,  and my husband now asks me on my return, “did you see him today?”.      The early morning walks have changed my entire day, allowing me time alone before I rush around readying my son for school, or run straight to the office to sit down all day without letting my mind to kick start without a large cup of coffee.  Time to think, to plan my day, to contemplate all the things to do, to clear my head  and most importantly, a chance to breathe and move and run into some ‘wild’ –   I recommend it entirely and I hope that you may have a chance encounter with some wildness while you’re at it.

Summer ramblings…


Welcome to summer and to the blinding blasting hair dryer heat of Arizona.  It’s that time of year many of us talk about living elsewhere and wondering, as we do, as to what we are actually doing here and why.   My cats seemingly dream through it from June to September.  In my case it’s been 17 summers – all which involved this thought for extended periods of time – but we do have the blessing of the monsoon season which is about to start, and then October rolls around and we celebrate the most perfect fall/winters while others dig their way out of the snow.  When I look at the heat wave that is surrounding  the country now,  we can claim “but it’s a dry heat”, so 109 degrees feels just like that (except when we climb into our cars) – hot enough to fry an egg on something within reach as well as turn our brains to mush.   This is the winter of our discontent here in the Sonoran desert.   Time to hide out in a cool air conditioned space and do a good cat impression…just come out at night to gather and hunt.

I’m all healed up after my experience this past Spring – completely out of that rabbit hole now.  In fact, I feel the best I’ve felt in years and ironically it seems far behind me.  No more back pain ( a first in many years) and it’s encouraged me to eat right, exercise  and lose weight.  17lbs so far (with the help of http://www.weightwatchers.com) – some more to go but I’m over the major hurdles and down the right path to healthier me.

I must mention however, that within an hour of my last meeting with my surgeon, who gave me a thumbs up to go live life, my husband, known for his risk taking adventures, fell of his bike while running our 90lb almost blind Landseer Newfoundland dog  and broke is leg.   In all honesty, I believe my own spring time experience was only to set me up for this, to give me the compassion to a) purchase him an ugly chair – one of those puffy recliners while he recovers – something I have fought off for years and b) understand the process for pain and recovery (this will be his 4th leg break and the doctor says he’s not allowed anymore).   He’s doing better already and back to taking some risk taking on his crutches.  No more running the blind dog on the bike though.  Now I’m  up at 6:30 every morning walking the dog at least 2 miles which is great for my health!

I am re-energized and back at the studio, and I’ve been working on some fun projects this past month while I got caught up.

The main focus has been  the website of Modern Works Music Publishing:  www.modernworkspub.com – finally here and still getting through the tweaks, but it’s starting to look like it should and how exciting to really understand the roster that this jewel music publishing company carries.   From Thelonius Monk to Brad Mehldau, Andy Summers and Pieta Brown, as well as   Alison and Viktor Krauss, Julie Gold, S.D. Souther and Eric Bazilian and Harvey Brooks and so many more – the company is a treasure trove of amazing talent and music, and an ever growing roster.     I was fortunate to meet Dan Coleman, who owns and runs the company, last year through our work with Howe Gelb and I came on board a few months ago to help him work on the creative elements of the company.  We’ll be soft launching the early version of the site and getting it out to supervisors and editors worldwide for licensing quickly and I have many projects to focus on with this.

In June it was a busy month with the delivery of the recycled billboard bags for the Mayors conference in Orlando Florida.  An event in which all the mayors from around the United States were invited to attend and we were honored to be asked to provide the bags for the event.

I’m still working on a coffee table book at the same time as my other projects.  I’m hoping for a September delivery (self publishing it through http://www.Blurb.com) but I’ll tell you more about this as it unfolds.  It is the least predictable of the projects because it is a self funded effort, and as any entrepreneur can attest, those projects tend to get shoved to the back of the line.

More projects are blooming and I’ll fill you in,  but this week is July 4th, so I’m being a little laid back and will enjoy sipping on a cup of Earl Grey tea, waving my british flag while we celebrate independence of each other (US & UK).  I’m British still at heart, I have a sense that I must retain some decorum in celebrating independence day my way.   A first generation immigrant always keeps her foot in her traditions (tea always at 4pm)!   I’ll be spending countless hours watching the Olympics this summer as well as the finals of Wimbledon.  I loved the Jubilee and the Queens birthday – it’s wonderful to see a happy revival in Britain and a nation uplifted (even by pomp and circumstance), and I’ll continue that in Tucson even in the scorching burning bright light of summer will fade my Union Jack.   Thank goodness for airconditioning, Direct TV, the neighbors pool and the ability to fast forward through commercials!  Its time to hunker down and hide in the cracks of my beautiful rammed earth office (see Compound Management to check out the building).

Back to the drawing board, but check in again soon!

Nicky

Rabbit holes and pot holes


Forgive me for the long absence.   I’ve been down a rabbit hole for all of April, rather an appropriate place to spend the Spring,  after hitting a large pot hole as I drove to return my little Ford Fiesta rental car at LAX.  I thought I was being economical renting this little car.  But perhaps economical is not always smart.   Hitting the pot hole  was a moment in time that was a cross between shocking and jarring, and eye crossing or star seeing (but not of the celebrity type).   It only takes a few seconds for lives to turn in another direction to the one we thought we were heading.   This turn was to the road less traveled.  After three days of work and meetings, I was driving to deliver the car back to its rightful place and catch my plane home, mulling over of all the things I had to do that coming week and how I was enjoying this new project I’d just taken on as Creative Director, and I was looking forward to getting home to hug my  10 year old that evening and catch up with my husband.  Then the slow motion button got pushed and I veered left onto a road I had not intended to be on.

As wide as the streets are in LA, and as bad as the driving is, there is never a good time for a random car to pull across the road passing in front of me with inches to spare.  The brakes of my economical bucket squealed like finger nails on a blackboard as I floored the pedal, and the bottom of economy hit the unseen  pot hole with such force that it gave me shuddering goosebumps.  In a slow motion blur I saw the passenger of the car look at me with her mouth open, and then they were gone as fast as they came. I swore out loud and shook my fist, but didn’t really understand the extent of what had just happened.    It was two days later when I awoke to get my son ready for school, I realized that I couldn’t bend my body, and getting out of bed was an incredible struggle.  My right side had locked and I couldn’t swing my leg or push myself up from my mattress.   You know its bad when you cry putting your knickers on, that you’ve hit an all time low when your partner finds you sobbing over your underwear and you are unable to bend your legs to reach down to pull up.  That moment of complete helplessness doesn’t come easy for anyone, and for me it was the moment I realized I was in real trouble.

Ten weeks earlier I had gone to my doctor to ask about the back pain I was having, and to tell her I thought I had a bulging disc in my lower back, but after being given a token prescription of vicodin and a referral for an xray, in which nothing apparently showed, and taking half a vicoden pill  I found myself nauseas and laying down on my office sofa for an afternoon,  I was back to square one.    When I hobbled into her office for a visit after my pot hole run in, she hummed and murmured “oh dear” and then prescribed steroids, ibuprofen and the process of getting an MRI began.   It took two weeks to get the approval by my insurance company.   I suppose it was just in case I wasn’t ready, because by the time I got the stamp of approval, I was in blind agony.   I could walk only on my left leg, dragging my right behind me inches at a time, my foot was completely numb and with the assistance of the two walking canes we had purchased when Mike had twisted his ankle earlier this year in Mexico I moved forward at the pace of a snail.    At  least my pesos were well spent.

Once you lose the ability to get up, you never want to lie down and it was taking me an hour to get out of bed each morning.  I would position myself and hoist, fall down, writhe around in pain again and again and continue this until I could position myself on the edge of the mattress, then slowly shift my bottom down until I reach the end of the bed, where, with the help of the bed frame and the walking sticks I could rise (and fall) until I was standing.   I was like a fish out of water.  Literally gasping between flaps, flailing without limbs.     I learned how to pee standing up  because sitting became no longer an option unless I sloped into a half lay, and I cried out as I hurled my body to the upward position   By this point I had stopped driving and had become reliant on friends and family  to drive me to only necessary places.   The week before I had driven my son to a friends house and spent the entire drive breathing heavily – remincent of birthing.  My son reassured me that this was only temporary, and I would mend.  He was handling it better than me, which was strangely reassuring. And he was now serving me food and tending to my needs instead of the other way around.   That was, in my mind, the time it was to admit the rabbit hole had closed around me and I was truly in the dark.

During all this,  I sadly missed attending my step sons wedding, and a number of other family moments I thought were probably important, but avoided inclusion.  One evening  my step children and their partners  came over for dinner, the four girls all cooking in the kitchen, two of which are pregnant with our future grandchildren, the three boys all sitting around the table talking of the upcoming wedding.  I sat alone in the living room, watching on, with my walking sticks by my side, propped up in a position that I could tolerate for a few hours.  The girls glowed healthy, a vision that always strikes clearer when you yourself are unwell.   Periodically checking on me, topping up my vodka to numb this mess of a woman, and a look of pity in their eyes as I winced at every move I made.   I saw for a moment the future as they all sat around the table, animated and happy as I half lay with my wobbly TV table and my food cut up for me.    The old biddy that needed feeding and caring for had suddenly found her way into my house and she  was me.   That was a stunning turning point when I silently made a pact with myself to heal quickly and focus on being strong and healthy so that I don’t become what I saw before the right time.     Heck, I have two new babies coming to grandmother, and my 10 year old needs me!  Perhaps those moments are the most important, when the light bulb clicked on, and I vowed I was not going to own this disability and remembered Eden’s words spoken earlier  in the car about this being temporary.  My lovely 10 year old wise son.

A day passed after my MRI came back and it was faxed to a neurosurgeon, who called me immediately and told me to come the next day.   And  there in print lay the root ofthis problem, shouting from the black and white facsimile the doctor had sent to him, was the culprit, the lower S1 disc ruptured, pushing its leaked contents against my sciatic nerve, rendering me useless and in agony.    He calmly told me he would be drilling into my back with a dremel  like tool and pulling the disc ooze off my nerve which he described as a tuna like substance and scheduled me for surgery 3 days later.  As a virgin to the surgery alter, I was eager to participate because the only other option was to wait it out to heal, which I was told could take as long as 2 years and unknown costs for alternative healing, of course not covered by any insurer.

Its funny how the human spirit takes over during times of chaos and illness.  The surgery seemed inconsequential comparative to the radiating pain, particularly the leg spasms that now invaded me like a bad joke.  I would feel like I was periodically being hit with a bat across my backside and my leg would swing up and over my left leg, trying to run away from these blinding uncontrolled motions.  These would come more and more frequently as the surgery date loomed.    Finally, waiting on a bed  in the pre-op room at the hosptial, the charming surgeon came to my side and smiled, and my leg threw itself in the air as I arched my back in pain.  I was exhausted by my bodies own mechanisms, by the sheer lack of control I know had.   His hand patted my arm, the classic doctor motion to instill some hope, and reassured me that it would be over soon.  Vulnerable and tearful,  I lay back and watched the lights above me as I was wheeled into the operating room.  I was now in a movie,  there was no turning back.

I awoke to the sound of a nurse telling me to breathe, that I needed to bring my heart rate back up, and I struggled to regain my ground, and awaken from the 2 hours I had spent out while they mined for leaking goop  and drilled away at the base of my spine.    Immediately my leg lurched into the air, a spasm of magnitude dying its last breath, the nurse gasped and told me I scared her, and that was that.   I’ve not had one since.   They wheeled me back to the recovery room and I lay anticapating the radiating nausea, but none came.    After a few minutes I asked to go to the bathroom and found I could sit up, stand up and now walk to the bathroom without the help of the Mexican crutches I had become so dependent on.  I could sit without screaming and the permanent crinkle of agony evaporated.    Just like that – it was over!

I’m in bed now, its 9  days since the surgery, and I’m doing just fine.   Not allowed to sit for more than 20 minutes, three times a day for the first week, and slowly start to regain my strength again.  At the beginning I would walk to the bathroom and after a few minutes of standing, there was the pounding of a steel hammer beating on my tail bone, and the feeling of what I imagine a gun shot wound would feel like in the back of my leg, but now it is less and less, more a dull ache, and I can stand for 20 minutes before I have to lay down.

I try to understand what the cause of this was, overall and not just the pot hole which was the straw that finally broke this camels back.   All illness, injury or disability stems from the root which seems important to discover so we can steer around pot holes and not fall directly into one.    The shamans believe that lower back issues relate to lack of financial support,  which in itself makes complete sense.   With the recession behind me, and a new and exciting job in front, it strikes me as odd timing for the collapse of my financial back bone.  Is it possible that holding onto all that stress for the past few years finally caused my affliction?   My son in law, an excellent chiropractor in Whitefish, Montana tells me that he saw more cases of herniated and ruptured discs during the six months following the kickoff to the most recent and disabling recession for small business owners than at any other time in his career.   So I ponder all this while I lay in my insurance issued home hospital bed and recover.

This week the days have  turned from the pain into a delight and I’ve climbed back out of the hole.  Friends and family keep stopping by to bring food, love and word of the outside world.  I feel as though I was picked up and removed from my life and allowed the chance to stop and look at it all in wonder.   To have been granted a chance to look through a window in silence at a moment in time, and to take with it lessons and changes that I need to make.   It has become a valuable window, that has allowed me some space and forced me to be still and breathe.  A rare gem of a moment to step out of the fast track lifestyle we all lead.   I’m zeroing in on those things I need to eliminate, projects that are no longer necessary, some relationships that are more toxic than nurturing.  I wanted to write this down,  in case you have a time when your back is broken, or your  stuck at home pulled from your routine.  Make the most of it.  Don’t squander away the gift of healing – it’s a chance to come up for air.   The rabbit hole is dark and it can be frightening, but the return to the light is worth it all.

It’s May now and I plan to be down for another week or two while I slowly start to walk and then stride.  I’ll let you know what I work out and how I heal.   Meanwhile,  a word of advise….stay healthy, exercise and eat right.  Love your family and your friends and truly appreciate the simple task of getting your undies on- and not in a twist!  Remember – it takes just one pot hole to change direction, a valuable and expensive pot hole, full of challenges and wonder.  And finally – don’t be cheap for the sake of comfort –  alway rent the better car!

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