Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Being Discovered

For the most part, we all want to leave a mark. We want an indelible impression on the world that tells all we were here. There would be no graffiti without this urge. No monuments, no bronze plaques on buildings, no children for that matter. We want our face out there in whatever small way and there is no denying it, it feels pretty good. We get a kick out of being recognized, wanted, sought after. Which brings me to the purpose of this post; how I got discovered.

I was sitting in a diner in LA one day when a nice woman came in and offered to buy me a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. No wait that was someone else.

Reset: I started doing this turning thing with my friend Jim in his Alaskan shop before it became jammed with stuff. You know what you have done, Wright, so just suck it up. We were just using firewood on a Shopsmith 5-in-1 tool with old gouges and chisels, and since I had never done this before, I was making a lot of sawdust but nothing useful. Flash forward through Arizona and my own Shopsmith in my brother's garage, New York and a mini-lathe in my other brother's basement, back through Alaska and the first real sales of stuff.

Yep the selling started in Alaska at the Wasilla farmer's market. There we were set up right between the Mexican food stand and the coffee tent. I guess tamale and Mocha-Frappa-lappas are farmed in Alaska but, you try and find green beans, not happening. We were jammed onto two tables under a $29.99 tent for all the world to see. And then the tour bus came. Most people went right past to the embroidered hat lady or the reclaimed wood things guy but we met a nice couple from South Carolina who asked questions about the native Alaskan Birch and where and how the pieces were made and Boom -- first sale of the day with shipping to their home in the mix. Some $400-$600 later we were high fiving and stuffing what was left back into Jim's truck. What was more amazing were the follow-on sales. Jim took boxes of the stuff to a contracting firm in Wasilla where he hosted a bowl party for all the engineers and support staff in the office. Hey it was another couple hundred. And after that, making spoons and honey dippers for a local potter and dropping a couple other bowls off to other folks, the snow came and I was on my way south.

Fast forward to the Mesa Arts and Craft Festivals. An every Saturday event that cost all of $15, had little requirements for presentation and was in the middle of town so there was a bit of a crowd. Remember now this is trip two to Arizona and before I actually started working so it is self-sustaining hobby and some pocket cash. And I did OK there. I averaged about $50 - $100 per week, mostly in bottle stoppers and a small bowl or two but no real doe. Then I got a job, thought about attending ASU for design, and joined some artist guild but, kept my Saturdays open for the MACFEST event. There is a certain loyalty you feel to your first regular gig. I became the poster boy. I was on the pamphlet. I was the weekly constant that broke up the line of "Bead ladies". Oh you know them, the women with glass beads, that sit there stringing their "art" right there in front of you. Funny thing is, in Arizona they make a killing. OK, enough on Bead ladies, though I could right an entire post on that.

So fast forwarding again to Western New York (WNY). Yep I made it home again. Set up shop in my last of other brother's driveways where I parked my RV and started turning his driveway all sorts of colors. Looking for yet another outlet for my work, I started putting in applications to the local art festivals and schleping my lathe, work, shelves, a tent and business license to one craft show per month. Funny thing is, after totaling all the fees against the actual sales, I never made more than exactly $270. And it ain't easy carrying all that crap around.

During my time in NY I had the pleasure of catching up with some old friends, former classmates, people I have not seen for 30 some years. One of whom was my friend Brenda. Now being the show-off that I am I tried to get all the people I knew to come to the shows in WNY and see my work and hang out and just get to know each other again. There is that legacy thing again. So Brenda comes to the Elmwood Avenue Arts Festival, with her husband and her sister and brother-in-law. I am thrilled to see her, meet the hubby and just do some catching up, while showing off my work and laughing about stuff, 'cause you cannot be around Brenda and not laugh. All the while I see the wheels turning in her head about my stuff, presentation, marketing and getting me noticed. There it is again.

Fast forward again to moving to Virginia, living with my long-time friend Susan and setting up in her driveway for the winter. Hey, she invited me. Keeping in touch with Brenda, she tells me about this site the Foundary. OK, she did it via Facebook so she could get a $10 coupon (admit it, you did) and later about a thing called a designer search contest. Well I figure it's a shot in the dark but what the heck. I take some photos, do some editing of other photos I have, do a little write-up about my work and fire it off.

Weeks go by and finally I get this email from the Foundary telling me I made the final three in their designer search contest. Ha! There it is! A glimmer, a flash of color, a fluke. So off I go to fill in the gaps on the phase II of the search contest. Bio, inspiration for my craft essay, finished product essay, why is my stuff unique essay and a video. If it weren't for Susan none of this would have gotten done! She shot the video, edited my bio and other essays, and staged stuff for photos. And away it goes to the Foundary.

Through fate, destiny, chance or what have you I blow out a knee at work. It's sprained, and I am now on the couch with the 14th century torture device strapped to my leg "the immobilizer" and lots of time on my hands to surf the web. Having not heard from the Foundary for some time Susan asks "What have you heard from the Foundary?" Nuthin. But I will search the web to see if there is any movement on the designer search contest. Now don't get bored with the details, this is all important if not riveting stuff. Stay with me. There I was, featured in the designer search contest. In the top three, vying for your votes. And I had not a clue that it had even started the day before she asked. So I start the Facebook Campaign. Prompting for votes, bugging the friends, still pasted to the couch so I got lots of time for this, working the internet room as you would, acting like a real rush chairman.

A week -- a whole week -- of this stuff being on the web. I have all that time to poke and prod and basically annoy the heck out of all my friends and family. And it worked. Thanks to your support I shot to the top of the list taking 2/3 of the votes in the last 48 hours of the contest. (Insert trumpet blast here!) Fame, Fortune, Money for Nuthin, Chicks for Free!

Well as it stands, a whole lot went into this legacy thing.
- Jim introducing me to turning
- People actually buying my stuff
- My brothers letting me use their driveways
- Brenda pointing out the Foundary contest
- Susan doing her level best to teach me how to market myself and my stuff (although she still has a lot of work to do in that aspect)
- Everyone voting for me
- More people buying my stuff

I guess the legacy thing has been achieved. Time to go and sit back and enjoy the fame. And hope there are no returns (of products).

And what is wrong with my maple platter anyway? I just cannot get rid of that thing.
Thanks everyone.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Modern American Workforce

The world of work has changed in 34 years of punching a clock. I have been fortunate enough to have never gone more than 3 months without a job. Hell even while on vacation in Alaska I worked for a month in a fishing lodge. I have not had to collect unemployment but once while in my 20's and though I have not always been paid what I was worth in regard to productivity per hour or sometimes not paid at all by certain ne'er do wells, I think it has pretty much balanced out.

There is no consistent theme in the jobs over the years. There was the family business in my youth, working in the shop sweeping up, moving large objects, basically being an unskilled laborer. Then the nursing home where I learned the fundamentals of institutional cooking. I have recapped tires, picked potatoes, cleaned bars, bounced in bars, butchered fish, sold suntan lotion on a nude beach, tended bar, hung drywall, fixed seed display racks, run kitchens, sold hot dogs on the street from a cart with a grill on it, been a professional photographer, oh yeah and there was all that time in the Navy, cooked in a fishing camp, made cabinets, made furniture, made bowls, pens and other objects, sold good equipment in a woodworking store, repaired and refurbished furniture, worked in a Railroad Museum, restored the floors in said same museum while writing a proposal to have $60K more work to be done to the remainder of the museum, sold good woodworking equipment again, made cabinets again and now finally working retail for a large chain. I did not mention a few because they only lasted a day or two for frustration reasons of my own. Like fast food, I hated fast food work. Blah!

With the exception of the family business which seemed more like punishment than work, I have been like the Steve Austin of the work force in all the jobs. Yep you got it, Better, Faster, Stronger. At least that is what I have been told by supervisors and owners alike. And those Navy evaluations! Man I should have been king of the world for what was written about me! (Disclaimer: ok over inflated evaluations in the Navy made the higher ups look good but hey they helped the ego too.)

So where am I going wrong? Why can't I fit in? Why am I not in charge of it all? Because it is the tenet of the American workforce to encourage mediocrity. To feel their personal worth is greater than the job requirement and stick it to the MAN by being less than productive. Now don't go getting all fired up about this and throwing it back in my face. You know that you an outstanding person in your field have suffered the slings and arrows of the underachiever pummeling you to slow the pace, stop making the "rest of us" look bad.

And where has this gotten us as a work force? Why is an American made product so damned expensive over a Chinese made product? Why do we not flood the world market with inexpensive yet well made items that we just can't leave X,Y, or Z-Mart without? Because we have created a less than stellar work force filled with self-important boneheads that do not see the value of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Look outside folks, don't see any smoke from the stacks of the steel mills anymore? They did not get cleaner, they went away.
Don't see the bright and shiny face of a kid wiping down your windshield anymore as another pumps your gas and another checks your oil? You get lip or just a sneer from the kids and adults behind the McCounter or can't understand the person in the McDrive through? And how about that house you live in. Is it within code sure, but was it built well and finished in a fashion that makes you bring in the friends to show them how wonderful the joinery is? Well how do you think we got here?

Not by busting out humps, we leave that to the foreigners who we complain about as we hire another one to mow the lawn or weed the gardens, or hang our drywall. Not by having pride in our workmanship, nope industry took some of that away by creating unrealistic goals for production at the top, and innovative ways around that in the middle and more creative ways to fudge it (ie defective products) at the bottom. So why did no one ever stand there and say "Um this is just not right." Well they probably did. Another worker labeled "company man" or "Over Achiever" or any number of derogatory terms by his fellow workers could very well have stepped forward and said just those things but was drown out by the masses of under achievers and self proclaimed worthy individuals. So what happens to the over achiever, the company man, the self-starter, they either get sucked into the same trap as the others or they quit and leave.

In my current employ, and we shall keep this employer nameless, I am surrounded by a number of people who need this job but are not willing to work to keep this job. They waddle around complaining about how things have changed and it made their job harder but when given the opportunity to participate in that change, chose to stand in the corner and wring their hands while avoiding the whole work thing. No participation just a lot of complaining. When asked to produce something that is slightly outside the scope of their job description they purposely screw it up so they won't be asked to do that again. Meanwhile destroying a $350 item in the process. And why were they not fired. Well for the same reason they were not fired for stealing a commission, or for treating a potential customer like crap, or for being generally insulting of the other personnel around them. Because we accept it as a personality flaw or a quirk and not as a potential loss of revenue. Wake UP!

But wait there is more! Next we have the underachiever's apprentice. A person in their mid twenties who is known to complain about not getting any hours, who is known for talking people out of sales because they just can't figure out when to shut up, a person who is pursuing a career in another field and just needs a part time job while attending college. This person, whose latest statement in the presence of others was the amazing "I am only working a 4 hour shift and I intend to spend it on my ass doing nothing." Along with the rebuttal to advice about how to get more hours was "I am getting sick of new people trying to tell me how to get ahead in this job." which they have had for a year or better. OK maybe I stepped over the line offering advice based on a direct quote from the manager who writes our schedule and rewards hard work with more hours. Nah!

And when one starts at a company with disgruntled employees is it not just predictable that previously mentioned employees are the most vocal, the ones you encounter the most, the ones who have influenced the most people they encounter and unfortunately those who are put in charge of training the new folks. What are we thinking? Longevity through mediocrity and known frustration are not the keys to successfully prepare a new person for the job. As a matter of fact it should have sent me screaming from the premises. Well it was Christmas rush time, it was just retail, and it was just supposed to be temporary. It still is temporary.

I have been told that next month I will be attending a tradeshow in Richmond. Working a 12 hour day testing tools and getting first had knowledge of the stuff we sell and why. Getting to fire up some real man stuff and see it in action. I better update my life insurance and redo my will. So how did this happen?

And more importantly: How did the non starters and under achievers not get chosen for this roadtrip? How did the underachiever's apprentice not get a box of business cards before the new guy? How is it that I am working 10 more hours per week than I want to, and 10 - 15 more than people who have more time on the floor? How I ask you is it then a better strategy of work to work less, bitch more and drag your large entitled ass around at a snails pace? How is it a good idea to go and pout in a corner (we are 60ish in this scenario) when someone else crushes your sales numbers because they speak politely to people and can type? How is it a good idea to destroy company property to keep from getting a better pay scale on a future day when something needs to be assembled? How does this work for the industry? How does this work for the workforce? How does this make us a better Nation?

So where in this equation do we find the common denominator? How am I the one who is all screwed up? How is it that I am not dragged out to the village square and burned for being an abomination? How is it that I still have to carry dead weight? Nothing changes. No amount of reasonable discussion, no amount of personal attention, no kind action like giving over a sale to a less competent person, lessens the number of the same nincompoops who I encounter in every job. And the drag is that I am out numbered and that their numbers are increasing every day.

You may want to check the whole buy American attitude too. Those products are nearly impossible to find anymore and harder to afford every day.