March 20th, 2019
The creative process of developing ideas into projects has always been the most exciting part of some of the best adventures I’ve had the opportunity to take part in. This latest ‘passion’ project started 4 years ago in a parking lot of the Shriner Temple in Tucson, where I found a journal that would take me on a very interesting journey, and dictate a creative road that I am now on. It has led me from Tucson to Balliol’s Special Collection Library at Oxford University. You can read a short essay here:
It’s been busy! Look for updates coming shortly. Thank you!
This week it’s come to light that a lot of friends are posting articles to my facebook feed extolling the virtues of Shedquarters for the home based business. Apparently I’m ahead of this trend, since I moved into my own converted garden shed over a year ago. With the sudden popularity and interest in shedquarters, it’s probably worth sharing exactly what it’s like to work out of one, just in case you’re at all curious as to how it is to set up shop in your own little cluster at the end of the garden.
I will state the obvious first. It’s certainly not for everyone. If you’re not an ‘isolationist’, or in other words, you want to be around people on a daily basis (other than your family or your dog, cat or chickens), or you need the structure and organization that going to work in a more formal office environment brings, then Shedquartering is probably not for you.
Also, garden sheds can feel sometimes like camping. I have a family of long legged spiders that have taken over and some months I find babies hatching by the hundreds – I vacuum and sweep, and no matter how much time I spend removing them, they come back. So if you have a fear of spiders or bugs or lizards…that too might be a consideration.
However, if you like a solitary work environment where you can focus and not be distracted (other than by your own misleadings to social media or moments taken to chat with the chickens or water the garden) , hours will pass without interruption and if you can picture your meeting room as a table and chairs scattered under a shade tree, then this rent free office life might just be ideal. Who knew paradise was an official tax deductible item, and it’s yours – rent free!
I work with creative clients, so they seem to love to visit this Shedquarters. If your clients need to have confidence in you because you have a more formal office – then perhaps this type of situation might not fit the bill, although I am sure they will almost always approve of your ‘can do’ attitude. Meetings here are almost a ritual of sorts, with tea bought out on a tray for my guests.
For me, it’s a pretty special place to come to work each day and conceptualize, create, talk though ideas and process things. It’s also a place where I can escape the gaggle of best friend teens that come and visit my 13 year old son (although now I think about it, they somehow always end up coming and visiting me and hang out to talk). My son loves to come and do his homework in here, so it has extra value! And finally, when my partner and I just want to catch up in the quiet, we sneak out here and sit back and enjoy the quiet.
My Shedquarters lays hidden below the weeping Sumac trees that surround the back wall of our yard. The structure was once a ramada with no walls for many years, then a potter owned our 1947 ranch house, which is located in a pretty and green neighborhood in mid-town Tucson. He turned it into a studio, with north facing high windows to allow good light, insulation to keep out the heat, and electricity. It’s around 18 ft x 14ft in size, with a sloping ceiling making it feel larger than it is. Sometimes I wish it were a little roomier, but it keeps me moving out unnecessary and finished projects and it demands I stay on top of keeping it organized.
I spend hours at my computer hidden behind potted lavendar and sage, working on designs, organizing events and campaigns, and putting projects together. I’ve realized my work days often involve staring only at a small area of my paradigm – my computer or an area within 10ft of it. Here I can travel quickly around the world, and have virtual meetings, create concepts and communicate. I really could be anywhere in the world. Big city or small town.
A friend gave me a wall air conditioner unit he no longer used to keep the space cold through summer months. The rest of the time, I open up the double barn doors onto the yard and enjoy nature. In winter, when it gets cold and frosty, I switch to an oil radiator that does the trick. In Spring and Fall I pull the linen curtain to stop the flying residents of my garden coming in. My dog tells me each morning when it’s time to go to work…he runs enthusiastically ahead of me, urging me to get to work, he acts as my cheering co-hort, and leads the way. The commute is divine. Its 20 steps at the most from my living room, and I check on my hens along the way.
Among the cluttered tabletops and desk inside, I’ve installed storage and worktops to hold my paints, office supplies, photography equipment and music, as well as my xerox pro workstation – an over sized printer, a remnant from another time in my business life, that I love. I have all my worldly needs to do the work, and the space, the peace and the time. While I dream of updating it to a Pinterest version of itself, this current version works just fine.
It’s a productive zone, one where I can pick and choose projects. Not having the overhead of renting an outside office has left me free of heavier financial pressure. I feel more able to pick the projects I want to do and also more time to do more creative work of my own. It’s the reclusive self that emerges here, gathering creative ideas, stumbling around sometimes, because this creative process is also revealing of ones self doubt and need to focus to accomplish.
You definitely have to have the practice of discipline to do this. I try to maintain a strict schedule, but under the this freedom to work at anytime of day or night, I arrive at my desk after tending to home chores like laundry, cleaning up breakfast, the house and walking the dog. I am fully immersed by mid morning- I tune into KCRW so I feel as though Los Angeles is just a fingertip away, or WNYC, or the local NPR station.
The garden, like the work that comes out of the shed, flourishes under my distracted attention of being Shedquartered. I am distracted by flowering poppies, the rows of kale with bright yellow and red stalks, the swallowtails that metamorphosis among the flowering dill plants. The start of the season of tomatoes and basil and knee high native corn growing in my patch.
Our backyard is no longer a simple urban yard but a small urban mini farm and is bursting with life since I relocated. Our vegetable plot exploded with a burst of green and color over the early spring. Onions, parsley, dill, lettuce, kale, carrots, peas, sage, beets, poppies – we are literally full on the goodness that emerges from this patch that feels like an island of soothing emerald green in an otherwise sun-baked land.
I am faced with the usual rhythms of self employment, and I share my office common areas with my animals rather than people. My adjoining neighbor is my chicken coop and run where 8 hens are laying.
I can’t help but feel so fortunate to have come to this place after so many years of renting office spaces and commuting in traffic jams and freeways, running businesses, being tied to buildings that cost a fortune and felt like shackles. It feels as though I have finally allowed myself to truly experience a working space that in essence has a freedom I’ve not had before.
So before you go looking for a new office, just consider the advantages of Shedquartering. All of the benefits without the overhead, and still a separate structure from the house. In my world right now, it is reaping it’s rewards. I can’t say it’s forever but for right now, it’s given me room to breathe with fresh air included, work and enjoy. For now, my wee little shed is where my head and heart can expand and create what was impossible before. It really could be anywhere.
hi-ho its off to work I go.
meanwhile, adjoined to the office is the micro-urban-mini farm – my little paradise.
insy winsy and mama coffee
Happy Chinese New Year! We have our first baby chick born, and we have given her a baby name (we hope it’s a ‘she’) “Insy Winsy”…She is the tiniest weeniest little chick imaginable, probably no bigger than my thumb. Already covered in a soft coat of black down she peeping loudly when Mama gets off the box to go feed. Coffee seems thrilled. She came running out of the coop squawking with excitement to break the news. Now Sugar, her sister and she, spend their day still brooding on the remaining eggs and keeping Insy Winsy warm under their wings.
I tried to take a peek earlier today but they hid her from site, but I could hear her peeping. We relocated the brooding box up into the penthouse coop at dusk last night to keep them away from the large hens while the chick grows a bit more. I’ve read that you don’t really have to do much if there’s a mama hen. She does all the work like showing them how to feed and drink, and we just get to enjoy the cuteness if all goes well. Three more possible chicks to come over the next week. We hope so anyway. We are thrilled! What a great start to the Chinese New Year. More soon! Meanwhile, here’s a day old photo – look down below Mama Coffee’s breast and find that baby eye!
on the fly
The Cottonwood. Marana, AZ
While February freezes much of America with it’s tempest fist pounding , providing snow drifts that bury houses and highways that are sheets of ice along the East Coast, Tucson remains one of the most pleasant places to spend the winter. It’s a balmy 75 degrees most days, and a few with rain are scattered between it’s picture perfection. I miss the traditional four seasons, but know that the Sonoran desert has it’s own seasons – warm, warmer, hot, wet and hotter, cooling. You can judge them by smell rather than by sight. The wind lifts the scents of each season and delivers them perfectly, subtly like a shadow changing shape. The best thing about this time of year is being able to open up my studio barn doors and face out onto the garden as I work. It’s a season we love, when the vegetable garden flourishes, and we can be outside without the burden of heat pushing us down. The birds are nesting, and the chickens are brooding. Valentines just passed and love is in the air.
As February rolled into sight, we saw our first Silkie rooster doing what roosters do. Roo-ing louder and more often, starting off at 2:30am and using his sexual prowess by attacking the two Silkie hens every 10 minutes of daylight. I realize now ’50 Shades of Grey’ has nothing on roosters. Our boy just turned 5 months old and was coming into his manself, puffing out his chest, he strutted around roo-ing all day long. We housed him in the penthouse coop/apartment attached to the main coop, because we could lay a thick blanket over it at night and muffle the noise when he was just a young lad, but as the months passed, the roo-ing got louder and LOUDER and we got grumpier and GRUMPIER until we all agreed his days were numbered.
We noticed one of the Silkies started brooding over her eggs a few weeks ago. Refusing to leave the coop to free range in the large dedicated chicken area of the garden, and laying flat in the box. I had to check on her – at first I thought she was dead. This is our first brooder, and it’s almost like a hypnotic state or trance – she lays perfectly still in the nesting box and fills out to flatten herself as much as she can to cover the eggs, coming out only one time a day to grab a quick bite to eat, drink and poop. We have decided to let her go through the process of nature, rather than end it. Since we only have 4 hens, there’s always room for a few more. We’d raised the first batch of hens from 1 day old hatchlings last spring during my son’s school project ‘Peeporama’, in which we became urban chicken farmers overnight by unintended selection it seemed. It’s been quite a ride.
We noticed that the other hens had stopped laying around the same time the brooding happened – or at least we knew that they were probably hiding their eggs somewhere that we couldn’t think of. We assumed that those hormones where now affecting them all. It was a complete mystery for a few days. They were all going into the brooders box in what we thought was an attempt to help ‘Coffee’ keep her eggs warm, and they all suddenly seemed very busy about it – until one morning a few days after the brooding started, I caught a distant view of ‘Freckles’, a 14lb monster of a hen standing over the brooding Silkie named ‘Coffee’ – and watched Coffee tucking another egg under her wing. A much larger egg than she could possibly lay. She was sitting on 14 eggs! ‘Coffee’ is a small Silkie, but somehow she lay and covered every egg.
A hard day in the hen house with Coffee and Sugar.
We decided first and foremost for our own good, and for that of our neighbors, our rooster had to move on. Fortunately, the feed store where we purchased him take back the boys because they are illegal inside city limits. I asked no questions on his future, but I know he’s had a dream beginning. This will be the 2nd rooster to have fired. Free of roo-ing and sexual escapades, the girls relaxed and carried on – continuing to lay eggs in the nesting box that Coffee never leaves (even though we have 5 boxes). So we marked the small silkie eggs that had been in there during Roo’s residency with a sharpie , and removed the remaining eggs and let her go at it.
It must be getting close to time now. I hear it takes 3 weeks for the eggs to hatch, so maybe this week or next we might see a few baby heads poking out from under ‘Coffee’. ‘Sugar’, her sister has been helping for the past 2 days. They both spend all day in the box, and we are sure they are hiding eggs that we haven’t seen. The other girls have settled back to a boring life of eating and pecking. Trouble has left the urban ranch. It is peaceful without Roo. We now sneak in at dusk, as the sun sinks and the hens are at their sleepiest, and gently we remove the newer laid eggs. They are delicious!
Beyond my normal work load, the first project of the year that came out of the blue was the unique offer from a friend to share a small booth at an antique mall here in Tucson. To be honest, I could not have been more excited! There was not a moment of hesitation in accepting her offer to share the 6’x8′ booth. As an avid collector of ‘stuff’, I’m also an avid purger. I love new and old, and my idea of a thrill is spent getting something lovely at an estate sale, or getting up early and visiting yard sales. Point me in the direction to an “off the beaten path” thrift shop, and I’m like a bee to honey. I have a particular affection for this habit, which leads me into an eclectic muck of decor, and while I dream of a modern uncluttered house full of clean lines and vast windows and space like a beautiful centerfold spread in Dwell Magazine, I continue to surround myself with bits of found saved treasures and treats. Dust gathers however, and I dislike dusting very much.
There is also the love to make room for new things, and let go of the old ‘stuff’ as well, and here I have a silent rule for myself that anything that does not fall into heirloom category can stay a while, but not forever. I move my living room around every three or four months, rearranging furniture in a manic way, getting rid of chairs that the cats have clawed to shreds, and avidly search Craigslist into the late hours, shopping for the next one. Half the fun is finding the right piece at the right price. Now the other half is selling it! Last year we had a big blowout yard sale comprised of 20 years worth of finds – that yielded a hefty cash reward. Yard sales are fun, but it’s so much work and I sold a lot of my worldly treasures for penny’s. One dealer later described my yard sale as the event of the decade and it stopped and made me think! Always glad to pass things along, and now my new arrangement provides a better solution for my passion. My friend and I now have the perfect storage room we wanted because it might actually pay for itself or even make money, and all items are reasonably priced but not for clearance. What a fantastic arrangement!
It’s taken a few weeks to put things in order and start to fill the space, and time to take 60 simply odd purchases and clean, tag and price. I’ve only cleared out 2 cupboards! It has made me very aware of the amount of unnecessary clutter, and I am making this a metamorphic experience! I’ll be going through more closets, hidden storage, the attic, the kitchen, the tool room and beyond over the next few weeks and months. No stone unturned. I’ve made a promise to not to buy anything else until I see my first check from the sales, and that I will only buy inventory with it. (I’ll exclude the two japanese ceramic birds I scored at the estate sale around the corner this weekend). Two weeks in. I took a second load this weekend, I see some of my inventory has sold. The antique mall does all the daily work. As a vendor, you set up your booth and they do the selling and report to you monthly with a check less their 10%. I’m thrilled. I’ll keep you posted. If you are ever in Tucson, stop by the www.coppercountryantiques.com and check out booth #800E!
Also out of the closet and on my table in full flow this month is the ‘Giant Sand : 30 Years’ book. It’s been 5 years in the making and has really taken that long to digitize and grasp the project. I’m looking at 175 pages of memories, and will be spending the next few months laying it out to launch a crowdfunding campaign to finish it. It’s a process. It’s a huge challenge. With it, I’m having to re-learn my skills on Indesign and book layout. It’s pushing me to educate myself. This project will be the biggest challenge I face over the course of 2015, and a challenge is always good.
Other projects completed this month include designing branding and packaging for a beautiful active jewelry line about to launch in Los Angeles. I’ll share this once it’s on the market because it’s still behind closed doors and I’m not one to spill the beans. We spent a couple of days shooting photos of the product. I just wished I had managed to snap a picture of the moment, when I was laying on my stomach in the dried river bed, shooting close-ups of the product on river rock, a coyote came within 5 feet of us, appearing above us to look down from the small ledge above my brother in law’s head. A jogger came along and the coyote ran off. It happened in seconds but it was a vivid proximity. It was the closest to a coyote we both had ever been.
There is Spring Bazaar at the Mercado San Agustin upon my to do list– which is a wonderful community event being held May 2nd/3rd. The Mercado San Agustin, a beautiful old style marketplace located in downtown Tucson, hosts a twice a year signature event that we put together-hosting a weekend market filled with young upcoming entrepreneurs, makers and artists. As it gains more attention, it grows. It takes three months to put together a juried selection of 50 great vendors to join the already 13 retail tenants on site. Our focus is finding the best and brightest of young talents to show.
I’m running behind today, and must hurry to finish a long list, but I promised you updates more regularly. I’ll check back with you on any baby updates as soon as I hear any peeps through my studio wall, as well as more project updates.
There’s life from the garden shed. It’s kind of broody right now, and there’s not an inch of snow!
2015 begins right now. Sitting in a clean reorganized studio, along with my dream list of projects to begin, and just a few on my list to finish up, I am ready! The refresh button has been hit and I had time over the holidays to shake off the cobwebs, do some maintenance and lay the ground for the year ahead. I’m just sorry I’ve not been here filling you in during 2014, for it was a rather odd year.
First things first, if you have read previous entries – you might be interested to know my home spun company, Box Fifty Four has transpired to be nothing of what I anticipated. I shared my idea of being a small label and music production company, but by early spring last year, I felt the short sharp shock of understanding the reality of working for free, or choosing the option of working to make a living. It felt like a gamble, as often those types of projects do, so I chose the latter, for my mortgage company would not be supportive if I worked with no pay. Box Fifty Four as a music project could not sufficiently survive and follow the older model of the independent label as I had wistfully dreamed. I had romanticized once again, but I’m glad to say, I was quick to understand, recognize and acknowledge this, and it was easy to let go and rethink.
What became abundantly clear to me; that the music business no longer accommodates much of my skill set. That, in fact, I have in effect been made redundant, in part due to a collapsed industry that has seen sharp royalty shifts, downward revenue streams and new methodology services that pay artists little return, and do not afford the luxury of having someone like me onboard.
A musician can make a living, albeit much harder than previous decades, and touring is really the only sure way to guarantee income. While sync licensing deals for use in television and film and gaming are also a valid income, they are not a weekly or monthly event due to the burgeoning plethora of music all working music supervisors receive; combined with not living in a major metropolis held some great disadvantages. I decided it was time to shift my focus and get on with whatever it was I was really meant to be doing. Slightly unclear of where I was heading, I decided to try my hand at a few things and see what landed.
It was not the first time in my life I found myself without a real focus. As a ‘project’ based thinker, I saw that I had become limited in my process because I got stuck in what I thought I should be doing and not focusing on a less linear path. My careers had morphed into several versions, but in reflection, they were all the same skill set – primarily marketing and branding of a variety of creative products and companies. It was a time of process. I was finally ready to let go of all my old paradigms and now the hard part came, finding my focus.
I decided the best thing I could do was ride the tide, a process where I just opened up to the signs of the process of change. I’ve been here before, and rather than living in fear, I believe in jumping off the proverbial cliff and diving into the water of discovery. I’m fortunate that I have the fundamental belief that I can absolutely do whatever I want. I may not always succeed, but I will always try hard before I accept that a project may not fly. This time it was a question of what is it I wanted to do.
I stretched out beyond my comfort level and tried some crowdfunding to see how it worked, and ran my first Indiegogo campaign to fund local musician and artist Naim Amor solo vinyl project; a limited edition vinyl pressing of his latest recording with fellow musician and friend Thoger Lund. This included co-hosting a community dinner for 100 people one night under the stars in Spring to help fundraise. We accomplished our goal, and it allowed Naim the opportunity to release his beautiful album ‘Hear The Walls’ (available on Ft. Lowell Records).
My photography saw more public views with inclusions in an exhibition in New York, as well as being published in papers, albums and websites. Opening up The Guardian one day, there was a photograph I took in my driveway staring back at me. That was such a treat. The process of photography is for me simply a joy, so receiving any opportunity to get my pictures out there is always extremely gratifying.
I also got the chance to contribute what I could to Sylvie Simmons self-titled project ‘Sylvie’ (Light In The Attic). A stunning and sparse album of love and lament played, sung and written by Sylvie, who moved temporarily into a travel trailer that we parked in our driveway as her hotel during the recording. The photographs I took were used throughout the album artwork. I couldn’t have been prouder of her accomplishment, and of the photographs that were included in her very first release.
Howe Gelb’s ‘Dust Bowl’ continued to spark. This album is a self-released sketch of his accompanying and fuller record ‘The Coincidentalist’ (New West Records). This charming collection of stripped down songs was a home recording he compiled and we packaged to put out on his label (Scatterland) through Bandcamp. He now sells this only on tour. I continued on the laborious task with digitizing the Giant Sand photographic archives for a proposed ‘coffee table’ book I’ll complete this year. Finally, Rainer’s reissue project (Fire Records) started its kick off early in the year and we moved forward with seeing the first of a series of 8 albums unfold.
It was a year of designing and developing my skillset as well, pushing my knowledge to improve my process. My graphic work and the challenges to learn new techniques on the computer transcended my skills to a new level, and I mastered more webbery magic in web site and app design.
Other projects included putting together 2 local marketplaces for artists and makers. Fortunate to work with Tucson’s unique Mercado San Agustin, a beautiful European style marketplace with an open outdoor courtyard located downtown. Here we put together two events, a Spring and Holiday Bazaar, bringing 50+ artists and makers out of their studios and into the public for a few days of the season to sell their wares, enjoy the ambiance and create a unique handcrafted community marketplace. Always fun, always challenging, I really enjoy putting these projects together and look forward to doing it again this coming year.
Then there was my first introduction to Tucson Modernism Week in 2014. This is a annual week-long event encompassing the celebration of all things mid-century modern in Tucson – specifically architecture and design. My role was to partner with a print publisher and produce a free ‘keep sake’ limited edition book for visitors to take home. It was my first time raising funds to produce a book like this, as well as working with 3 Story Media who created the content. I was very proud to be a part of a great team of people and we accomplished our goals and deadlines.
Between projects, life delivered some of the usual unplanned twists and turns; my son had two surgeries on his feet. My husband had two surgeries on his eyes. So I drove a lot to and from hospitals and doctors offices. Both are doing fine now. We installed a chicken coop and raised our first flock, and I learned the invaluable lesson of the zen of raising hens. The dog finally went completely blind, due to a birth defect, but still managed to kill 3 chickens despite it all (we suspect chicken radar). I cried at each ones death, and realized farmer was not in my skill set.
We went to the wilds of a peninsula in Baja, Mexico and took long walks on miles of empty beaches, as well as trekking to the wilds of suburban Los Angeles and taking long drives down busy freeways. According to my smartphone, I walked a total of 860 miles over 320 morning walks with one blind dog and wore through 2 pairs of trainers. We demolished our kitchen (and have yet to rebuild). We built a brand new vegetable garden (since the chickens destroyed the original one) and started a serious crop growing project of which I am an enthusiastic novice.
New projects involve a new life force. Now I have had some time to do some reflection and regroup, I’ve stepped back from thinking of my career as a race. With age, has really come some wisdom. By choosing the work as a lifestyle rather than a career, I have found a new mental and emotional freedom that allows me to be so much more able and capable.
Ambitions these days have become more focused on creating a balanced lifestyle for myself and my family, and that means doing projects I’m inspired by and choosing to live on less. With the demise of the middle class (of which I would most certainly refer to as my roots), we all find ourselves juggling finances, prioritizing our spending, and focusing on the simpler smaller and more basic needs. I’m happy to pick food from my garden; salad, herbs, greens, peas, onions and every day am thankful for the hens eggs and for the short commute to my work.
Being available for my 13 year old son because I work from home has also bought about a new found freedom I hadn’t known before. I can be flexible with my schedule. If he’s sick with a cold and home from school, I’m home to make sure there is a pot of chicken soup made. I’m proud to be thrifty, find a great deal or discover a second hand shop where I can buy a set of 6 beautiful glasses for $3.00. It’s not that I don’t like luxury or pampering, it’s that I haven’t compromised my happiness for a job that I don’t want, I want quality in all the things in my life, and if that means having a little bit less financially, so I have more time to do the things I love, that works. It’s made me more aware on so many levels.
Working out of your garden shed brings certain freedom and also some downfalls. So I’ve been thinking more about this blog and why I should write it. What can I contribute that might be of interest? Here, in a fully equipped rather beautiful garden shed I live a Pinterest reality. My full time studio still known as Box Fifty Four, is affording me a very simple, yet productive and creative life. I have days when I’m not sure, and then days when I’m really clear. The isolation of not going to an office or interacting daily with others can both be wonderful and rather daunting. It is a path of solitude, one that is allowing me to develop and grow as an artist. I am trying to now use this process to fully realize some of my own creative dreams and this takes a lot of discipline. Fortunately, I’ve got the discipline of working every day down from being self employed my entire working life, but the focus can be the struggle. Perhaps this part of the journey is most interesting, and I am drawn to telling you how it unfolds.
I have arrived at the gate of 2015 knowing that I had better get back on my journey, after contemplating a year that passed in a place of the unknown. In this moment, I feel comfortable at the idea that I really don’t know what lays ahead, and I want to continue to develop my skills and work on the projects that inspire me. It’s a great place to start the New Year. It’s a blank page that is yet to be written. Check back with me in a few weeks and see what appears on the page. I promise it will be interesting and I’ll include the good, the bad and the uncomfortable.
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.
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.
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.
“I 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.