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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Truth About Buying Locally...

I'll be honest with you and say that a few years ago my first thought whenever I would hear the term "buy local" wasn't ever a positive one.  I envisioned that guy who fueled his Whole Foods trips via a trust fund at nearly thirty years old and wouldn't know a struggle if it were to manifest itself as his white washed linen shirt and began dancing to the songs he had written about world peace and bunnies.  The other people that came to mind were the overprotective parents who take their kids to the Emergency Room over a scraped knee and shove forty-five vitamins down their ten year old's throat on the daily, finishing with none other than a wheat grass chaser.  I thought this way for a very long time because I couldn't be bothered to see what craftsmanship, tangible talent and creativity actually meant.

Food is what I always assimilated with something being considered "local" concerning things you could actually buy.  The city I live in even has a Farmer's Market every Saturday morning to help support the whole organic and free-range movement that has been happening now.  The side of locally sourced goods which tends to go overlooked fairly often is that of the craftsman type in most communities.  Chances are, if you live in a fairly populated area, there are more skilled craftspeople than you probably realize.

When I was in college, someone I had known since childhood actually said this:
"Why would I spend three dollars on a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-a when I can get one at McDonalds for a dollar?"
Something about rib meat and recycled chicken genitals probably...
I won't say you always get what you pay for, but sometimes certain scenarios lend themselves to being a little more obvious than others on that spectrum.  

I build furniture now.  That's not something I ever thought I would be doing, but in trying to figure all of this out and gain some business growth, the biggest obstacle is always exposure for me.  In the same way that people will walk right by a local Italian restaurant that makes all of their pastas and sauces fresh in the morning and spend the same amount of money at Olive Garden, my business often suffers the same fate.  People like the bland familiarity of buying consistently mass produced things for some reason.  

When our grandparents were buying furniture, it was an investment for a lifetime in most cases.  That's probably why so many of us still have generational furniture in our families.  Timeless designs that were sometimes commissioned, sometimes a product of original design, but always built by someone who was a professional at their craft.  Some time over the past few decades, automation (as expected) took over, most pieces were reproduced, and outsourcing to countries that allow sweatshops became the standard in pretty much every industry.  I'm not going to give you some sort of lesson about how sweatshop labor is immoral and horrible (though it is) because every westerner is guilty of buying those products.  All I am going to say is that furniture, jewelry, glass, and a slew of other things we consume these days through overseas labor were once expensive and seen as an investment instead of a consumable.  The lower pricing we have today is thanks to the menial amount of money the laborer is paid to produce that article.  That Ikea bookcase or sterling silver ring you bought probably changed hands at least three times and traveled across an ocean or two, but was still available at a lower price than the man or woman a few blocks away would have charged you to build something of the same design, but most likely better quality.

This opens the door to "feeding the corporate machine", politics, and all sorts of things that do nothing but break us all down a little bit more everyday, but I'm not into that stuff.  
I'm an offender.  
Not all I buy and consume is certified organic, locally sourced, or is guaranteed to have been made in hospitable work environments.  We're all guilty of that, but there are things we can learn from the past which I think would benefit us all by reverting back to them, including finding more local people to stimulate business through.  I know there are locals who gouge prices, but more than not aren't trying to get rich.  They only want to be happy in their career.  I've looked through Ikea catalogs (without bursting into flames, imagine that) and some of those prices are pretty mind blowingly high compared to similar things I build and sell, not even considering the quality aspect comparisons.

Like I said before, the biggest issues to overcome by the local career craftsman/woman/business owner has to do with exposure.  

There was a store around here that opened in October of 2013 to specifically sell locally-made products.  In July of this year, it folded and closed forever.  When the owners made the official announcement of closure on their Facebook page, a solid seventy-five percent (I counted) of the comments were something to the effect of:
"I am SO sorry!  I was planning on coming in soon to check it out!"
Just think if those seventy-five percent within the community had actually showed up sometime over those ten months, maybe bought something, or at least helped spread the word that the store actually existed?
The place may have had more of a chance to sustain itself.  

All I am saying is that the term "hidden gem" usually doesn't help a business owner grow.
If you believe in what your locals are creating, support them by giving them a shout on social media, take some business cards without leaving them to scatter around the floorboard of your car, and check on the costs and quality of having something built down the block as opposed to having it done across the globe.

This applies to every business: craftsman/woman, barber shop, a band, anything that flourishes with support.

It doesn't just take a community to raise a child.
It takes the whole community to sustain itself.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In the summer of 2004, my friend shoved me into the basement of an abandoned elementary school in the north Atlanta suburbs after yanking the flashlight out of my hands and proceeding to hold the door shut.  We were in there because that's the sort of thing stupid teenagers do - try to place themselves in the best possible scenario to have a potential horror film written about them.  I was scared, but I knew if I freaked out, he would hold the door shut for a longer period of time (that's what guys do to each other).  When I was finally freed, I did issue him a well-deserved Mag-Lite smack across his kneecap for that one.  Scared?  Yeah, because I didn't know what was down in the basement.  

Shortly after New Years Day in 2005, I jumped on a plane and went to Jamaica to play music and stood before the biggest crowds I had ever played for at the time.  Traveling around half a foreign country with only one person you know is even more frightening than having over a thousand pairs of eyes on you, watching your every move.  Scared?  Yep, because I had never done anything like that before, but it completely killed any fear of public speaking and performance from that point forward.

In the summer of 2009, I did a lot of weird crap... Between building a race car in my garage with my friends and racing it, getting expelled from Seminary, riding my motorcycle through the downtown Atlanta connector at about 90mph in rush hour traffic too many times, and being one of four grown men who squeezed into my old car:
all at once and went for a little late night jaunt (I was sitting on, yes on, the trunk) you would think I had a death wish or something.  Honestly though, riding four deep in my car didn't seem like a bad idea in the moment until someone pulled up beside us at a traffic light, rolled his window down and said:  
"I'm an ER nurse at Emory.  I'll probably be seeing you guys later."
Scared in all of those moments?  Sure.  That's how you live and know you're alive - or at least that's what I tell myself, but I make weird decisions sometimes.

The thing is, I think we all have stories that aren't so far off from the few I told you.  I have quite a few more to tell than those, but my mom reads my blog and I don't want her to have a heart attack, so I'll stop short.  A sense of fear and seeking it out is a pretty normal thing for most people unless you're really reserved (which is just fine and dandy if you are).  But, what I have noticed is that even the most fearless, crazy, or outgoing individuals I know tend to share one fear in common:
Most of them are afraid of other people.

It boils down to honesty and the culture that has been created over the span of generations which gives so many of us the need to please or be pleasing to others.  Walking that fine line between being appropriate and not disappointing to anyone.  What we have actually done, I am afraid, is lost our sense of honesty and individuality with others.

You see, I listen.  I listen to lots of people vent, share their frustrations, break down crying, or even question life.  Why?  I have no idea, but people confide in me either because I have a trusting personality or am just so damn cute that you can't stand it...  Let's go with the first option.  Getting back on point, what I have realized through the past dozen years or so worth of listening that I have done is how people create their own social issues fairly often and don't even notice it is happening.
Because they'll take twenty steps around something instead of facing it head-on.
It's a fear of people, a fear of rejection, and a fear of hurting people.

The thing about honesty is that it provokes fear in people who aren't confrontational, and it makes people think those who tell you the truth without flinching are complete jerks.  Since nobody wants to be in either camp, we settle for treading lightly around insignificant issues and start lying or avoiding instead.  Trust me, I lived there, so I know all about that.  The thing about lies and avoidance is how much more crap it compounds on the issue and also how much more complicated it usually makes life.

Some people have that "friend" they don't actually like.  When you're at a party and instead of everyone saying:
"Oh! Is William coming??"
it ends up being more like:
"Ugh, is William coming?"
while everyone else there has the same exact thought in their head.  That guy who is a complete jackass because nobody has ever been honest enough to tell him how much of a scrub he is?  Yeah, a situation like that, which is harsh wording, but you know exactly what I am talking about.  No, you don't have to invite him to your wedding, I promise.  But someone should probably sit down with him and have a nice talk at some point or introduce him to a new herd of like-minded donkeys to run with.  Otherwise it's sort of like having an abusive boss you hate, but with the title of "friend" put into the mix for some reason, isn't it?  You try to escape the boss, yet you try to maintain the friendship.  Makes sense.

It's the same idea when we make up excuses for not wanting to go places or do things with certain people instead of just saying the truth.  I had a friend a while back who would send me a text asking to call him when he was trying to get out of certain social situations (honestly, I've done it too).  I had a tendency to think up anything I could to make him laugh when he picked up the phone so it didn't seem like an emergency to the people he was trying to get away from.  
"Hey, man, I got my little toe stuck in a Tobasco bottle and I can't get it out.  It's not the original flavor either, it's habanero, so I need some help." 
because I'm fun like that - or a little facetious.  It's one of the two.  

Then I started thinking about how much all of that hoop-jumping and goose chasing it took to put up with all of that socially acceptable "normal" stuff.  You know, as compared to being honest about how we feel about things as we were taught to do when we were kids.  All of that seems to go out the window at some point between being about ten years old and halfway through high school.  If that's the world you like being in and constantly having to cover your tracks, by all means, continue to do so.

I would rather be transparent in life, answer truthfully, and be answered to with honesty from other people.  Sometimes the truth hurts, but the sting goes away much more quickly when we're upfront about things.  
Then you can concentrate on scaring the shit out of yourself and being afraid in the moment instead of just being afraid of other people.

Make sense?

Grace and Peace,

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dream Chasing and Fleabag Dogs...

My friend made a smiley face with a straw wrapper and my keychain.  She does things like that.

"So, what do you do?"
Outside of the most common question in America of "How are you?" (which most people really don't care about) this is probably the most prevalent icebreaker for people who have just met.  Over the years, I have sort of tried to stay away from asking that question right off the bat, because I don't want someone's career choice or predicament to cast a shadow on them before I figure out their personality.  I try really hard to not let someone's business be a factor of how I perceive them, but I am human and the type who doesn't like corporate environments. It's one of those things where if you know a dog has fleas, dandruff, and pisses on everything, you probably won't want it in your house.  On the other side, if you don't know about those things right off the bat, you might end up loving the dog, despite those small things, even if your house temporarily smells like urine and flea powder while Fido gets his personal drama situation under control...
That was a bad example, but stick with me here.

Life is pretty weird and random.  Over the course of my own life, I have seen so many people from every age demographic be very successful in whatever it was they were doing as a career and then have it all ripped out from under them in an instant.  This was a process I saw over and over again, sometimes for reasons which could have been prevented by those same people, sometimes as a result of mismanagement by others, and sometimes for reasons beyond the control of anyone at all.  I watched all of this happen time and time again and in each of those instances told myself 
"Why weren't they more prepared?"
"They should have done that way differently.  I wouldn't have let that happen."
Then, one day, out of absolutely nowhere, it happened to me, my world fell completely apart, and it felt like I was standing in the middle of a desolate highway with absolutely nothing.

The funny thing about life is how it has a tendency to jump up and slap you in the face sometimes, just as a quirky little reminder that you are never in complete control of anything.  It always seems to happen when you least expect as well.  Being prepared doesn't hold much ground in some situations, but when all is said and done, it really comes down to what happens after that point - in other words, it all leverages from your actions after the initial shock subsides.  Some people manage to triumph over their severed ties and some settle into the next thing they happen to find.  I'd say to focus on the former.

When people use the term "recovery", they're usually talking about addiction or some football player ripping out a groin muscle.  Have you ever thought that sometimes you just need to make a recovery from life itself (with groin muscles intact, preferably)?  Both of the examples I gave creep up on you without notice and then hit you like a ton of bricks. The key is to not settle for the second best or easiest following scenario but to keep pushing right along instead.  I see too many people settling for less than they deserve and less than their intelligence could be used for.  

It's no secret that I am pretty big on self-education and that I think you can learn more practical knowledge through the experiences of life than you ever could in a classroom.  But you have to pay attention and be willing to work through whatever situation you are in while keeping your goals intact.  Unfortunately, it took me two whole years to figure out that the only way I was going to find fulfillment in life would be through self investment.  Trudging through the murky crap that you really don't want to for a while until you can get the ball rolling with your goals and set those plans in motion is not the most fun thing to do, but it beats getting stuck, certainly.  With that said, I'm still figuring everything out and still don't consider myself successful in what I'm doing just yet, whether it be with the 20,000 or so of you who read this blog, my design and fabrication business, my Kinja articles, or whatever else.  I still consider myself "in recovery" because once you think you have beaten the demons, and think you have recovered is when you tend to go stagnant.
When you go stagnant, your world begins to fall apart a little.
When you stay in recovery, you're always trying to make improvements.

I'm not a motivator by any stretch of the word, but I do believe if you have no struggle in life, you should find one and always seek out a new challenge.
Stay out of the routines and do something crazy while chasing down the things you love.
Nobody is ever remembered for a routine life.
We remember the risk-takers, not those who talked about taking risks.
When someone asks:
"What do you do?"
I hope you can say:
"I'm in pursuit of what I love."

Leave a legacy.
Be you.

Grace and Peace

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Don't Let Your Heart Grow Cold In The Winter...

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what happiness really means and how you go about finding it.  That's a pretty loaded question and carries all sorts of weird dynamics into all sorts of depth.  I believe we're all in a constant pursuit of either happiness or misery and seeking out whatever side you thrive from is an essential battle of life.

The more I grow, the more I love, and the more I think about things.  Unfortunately this also opens the door for things I don't like seeping into my life - the things I ignore, and the wrong things I have had the misfortune of embracing.  Anyone can put forth the illusion of being anything they want and carry that silly mask wherever they go.  Likewise, we can all have friends and acquaintances which serve specific, masked purposes that we keep around for our own benefit, but I don't believe in that anymore.  I've said it before in a similar context lacking as much depth, but if we would all focus more on growing with people instead of complying with or using them, we would all be better off and entirely fulfilled.

I'm not talking about some floaty, off the wall, transcendental movement that makes the world think you're the type who would be best suited for running around in a field, naked, covered in dirt, and basking in the beauty of nature before being eaten by a bear though.  The truth is... I look at most things from a realistic perspective and embrace the moment I'm in rather than chasing hard in life to find or create a moment because I'm looking for one.  Sure, we all have these fits of clarity from time to time when it seems like the sky has opened and we can take a solid and pure breath of life into our lungs, but there is a difference between chasing that down and paying attention to your surroundings enough to notice the incredible things you would otherwise miss entirely.  You know, when you're having a good conversation with someone and their smile gives you that fractional second of goosebumps?  You can't fake that, nor can you force it.  It's just there.

Going back to the two very distinct types of people I mentioned before is a large part of that demographic.   We don't have any real obligation to be around people who only convey negativity or usability towards us, but so many of us have a tendency to put up with just that.  It has an effect on us that causes more damage than we take into account.  I'm not talking about the highs and lows of life and the sporadic reactions which sometimes come out pretty brash.  I'm talking about the frequency in which it happens and the ratio of your life it manages to consume.  Nobody can be happy all of the time, and some people flip through the pages of their life and personal situations that cause them to fall off for select periods of time, but if it seems like more than a seasonal occurrence, that's a problem.   On the other side - if you pay attention to how much you complain, how much issue you take with the imperfections of the world, how you view people in a certain light without giving a benefit of the doubt on initially meeting them, or if people joke about your irrational demeanor, you may actually be that person.

We can't be happy all the time, but we can pay a little more attention to what actually makes us naturally happy as opposed to synthetically.  Some things are fun for a little while, but go into those situations knowing the final outcome of some of those actions won't be fun.  It's a weird cycle that so many people follow and allow to rip them apart.  Because we try to create those impacting and lasting moment of life to look back on and reflect upon but miss the smaller things that trickle by.  Crazy.

Just pay attention to your surroundings and embrace your happiness.  That doesn't mean living on cloud nine at all because I know plenty of people who only find happiness and fulfillment in life by helping others achieve their own greatness.  Don't write people off because of one thing they say or make assumptions about their character without hearing them out properly, because that could also cause you to miss out on one of those incredible moments after closing a door too quickly.

Happiness takes exploring and leaving your comfort zone sometimes.  Those who live in a synthetic personal comfort like to stir up things to make other people uncomfortable.  Don't be that.  Just be you.  If you don't know who you are, work on finding out until you do.
Find your own definition of happiness and enjoy the embrace while not being afraid to also embrace other people in the process.

Grace and Peace,