Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stock goes up, stock goes down

"Hey, it's a hard town, I wouldn't want to live in it
But I wouldn't want to give up in it, all things being the same."

Every now and then I wonder if I am going to overdose on making beads and lose my desire to melt glass.

Truthfully, I've stuck with lampworking longer than every passion in my life, Neil and my kids excluded.

If anything I'm more eager that ever to fire the torch in the mornings, more impatient for the kiln to cool off enough for me to look at my day's labors in the evenings.

Which proves essentially nothing, given my history of impulsiveness at times when faced with big decisions.

For example, I never wanted a tattoo until one day I wanted one. I didn't go out and get one that day, but the die was cast and getting a tattoo instantly became a certainty.

I used to get into relationships too quickly and get out of them even more quickly. I was in like Flint and then I'd pull a runner.

Hard to believe I worked for the same company for 30 years. Or that I stayed with my first husband for 15 years. In the long run, in both cases, it had nothing to do with passion though, and everything to do with weariness and loss of self-confidence and maybe a bit of stubborness.

I'm not a quitter. Except that sometimes I am.

Sometimes I'm a bridge burner.

Neil noticed that I haven't had my typical number of deliveries of glass or beads. I've stopped wanting more glass and beads. Not entirely. There are a couple of new colors I'd like to buy, but not so badly that I can't wait for a really good sale or until I am out of something I must have, like my go-to clear, and have to place an order anyway.

For a number of reasons, I limit the amount of time I make beads in a day. I have to baby my hand, arm, shoulder, neck and back, so I try to stick to 2 hours or 18 mandrels. At this time of year, it starts getting way too hot to be creative by 11 am or so anyway. But it's also a tactic I'm hoping will help me prevent burnout.

Whether or not it will help remains to be seen.

There's an old saw in the business world that all it takes is one "oh shit" to wipe out 10 "attaboys." That's just as true in my own head. I really do get a lot of validation as a beadmaker. Here are some recent messages people sent when my beads arrived.
Bead arrived safe and sound in my mailbox. It is just beautiful, better than in the photo.

Thank you so much. I got my beads and love them! They are so beautiful.

I just got my package from you before I left the house, I love them!

Received the beads and they are exactly what I needed!

Received these beautiful beads in today's mail. Thank you so much, Liz!

Hi Liz - The beads arrived today- very pretty!!

I got the bead! Thank you! That bead is just gorgeous!!

Got my beads today....must've been on a purple kick! Beautiful as always.

I received another group of your beads! I love them all. Thanks so much !

Hi Elizabeth! The 3 sets of beads arrived today! They are all gorgeous. Thank you again!!

Hi Elizabeth - I opened your bead package just now. They match to what I saw so wonderfully well. I adore them.

I just received my beads!! They are even prettier in person. Thanks!!

Elizabeth - I received the beads today. Just had to tell you that I am absolutely thrilled with them! Each and every one is beautiful. Thank you so much!
These are not cherry-picked comments. I'm not omitting any negative or even neutral remarks. Not every customer messages me after they receive my beads. As a buyer, I rarely do that myself, although I probably should do it more often.

No matter how many favorable comments I get, I am always braced for a negative one. Beads arriving broken, although that happened only once, a raised dot that chipped off, and I replaced the bead. In the seven years that I've been selling beads I have had a few returns, most during my Etsy heyday, and no more than three or four.

I've only had one return in the 18 months I've been selling on Facebook. The buyer asked if I minded if she de-stashed (re-sold) a bead she bought. She said she couldn't use it. I think it was bigger than she had visualized. I offered to take it back and she returned it. She has never bought from me again, and you know, it still sort of hurts my feelings, even though the bead ultimately sold to someone else for a higher price.

Still, I take pride in my track record. I can't say I personally loved every single bead I've ever sold. But I've learned to list my non-favorites anayway, and to put them out at bead shows, because there's no accounting for tastes. As long as a bead is sound, no bad ends, no scum, obviously no cracks or chips, there is probably someone out there who could love it even though I don't.

On the flip side, just because I think one of my beads is drop-dead gorgeous does not mean it will sell on the first go-round, or for a price that I think is worthy. I just set my start price at something I can live with. If the bead doesn't sell, I may wait and try again. I may lower the price or I may raise it. It's surprising how many times raising the price has drawn a sale. There may or may not be a lesson there. It's certainly not a fail-safe strategy. I just go with my gut. Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.

We've been reading Harry Potter, that is, Neil is reading me the Harry Potter series. We're slogging through The Order of the Phoenix right now, having recently completed our slog through The Goblet of Fire, which I maintain should have been called The Tri-Wizard Tournament, since the actual goblet of fire was more peripheral than pivotal to the story.

Neil is fond of pointing out that Harry's "stock goes up, stock goes down," meaning some of the time he's popular, a hero, while the rest of the time everyone's pissed off at him.

It's my opinion that Harry so far hasn't shown much pluck, ingenuity or heroism. He's more a reluctant victim of circumstance who is usually rescued rather than saved by his own wits. The latest example was his encounter with the newly restored Lord Voldemort, when the ghosts of Cedric, Frank, Bertha and Harry's parents run interference so Harry can escape back to the portkey and return to Hogwarts.

Like Harry, my bead "stock goes up, stock goes down." A day with no sales can turn into a day with a windfall of sales. Someone wins a set of dot beads, asks if I have any more, of course I do, I send photos, customer says yes, those, those, those and those, and an $18 sales turns into a $90 sale. I haven't quite learned to trust a benign fate, but I keep plugging, I keep perspiring, I keep showing up.

Yesterday I thought I had a bad day on the torch. I even told Neil, as we were driving to meet my daughter and her boyfriend for dinner, that some days, when things are not going well, I should probably just shut it down. But I rarely do, I keep trying, hoping to end on a high note. And then last night when the kiln had cooled down, I was amazed how pretty some of the beads turned out.

I didn't torch today. The kids slept in a bit and by the time they were up and ready to go, it would have been too hot to get started. Initially I was happy to have an excuse for a day off. I realize I could give myself a day off anytime, but that's not how I roll. And you know, I felt the itch to melt glass. It's possible I was displacing my feelings, because I was a little sad about my daughter leaving. Sometimes it's just hard to realize that she will never be little again, never live with me again. Time ticks on inexorably. It's easier to think about beads than to think about growing old.

In the meantime, I have a long stretch of days ahead with no conflicts, design ideas in my head, and new glass to boot.

I know the allure of lampwork for me might turn off one day, like a tap. I'm pretty sure it won't be this week though.

"She is searching for some form of salvation
In the corner of a bar down the street
But the gin controls whole conversations
And plays magic tricks with her feet

She gets up, falls down, breaks even
Gets caught by the wrong Mister Right
Hey, it's a hard town
I wouldn't want to live in it
But I wouldn't want to give up in it
All things being the same

Back home she's got these pictures on her mirror
They frame her when she looks back at her face
They tell her where she's been
I'll tell you where she's going
She's got her name on a stool down at Eddie Owen's place

She drinks when romance brings her down
Like the sight of blood is a wedding gown
Bright lights and smoke fill up this space
It's a crowded room, but still a lonely old place

All her friends are nothing more than strangers
Whose names are just words on a face
If they bumped into her out on a sidewalk on some Sunday
They wouldn't recognize her outside of the place."

(Ellis Paul)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hot or not

"Strip your heart and it starts to snow. Love is a high-wire act I know. Someday I'll find a net below.
Someday I'm gonna be safe in the arms of love."

Proving once again that the only rule of thumb when it comes to selling beads online is that there are no rules, I had a flurry of activity, followed by a dead zone. Followed by a frenzy of action.

I should be so used to that phenom by now that I'd view it like the weather here - if you don't like it, wait a minute and it will change.

And for the most part, I do, I'm philosophical. I keep melting glass, working on my designs, and eventually, if I keep relisting things, the right person will see my beads and buy them.

It's a lot of work, but it's my job now, and if work was supposed to be fun, they'd call it fun and not work.

As usual, the less I look at what other artists are listing and selling, the less I feel bad because I am comparing myself to them. When I do, one of two things happens, and neither one is good. One, I see great talent and I despair of achieving that artistic vision or technique, or both. Two, I find my jaw dropping because I can't see what is so great about some beads that causes customers to bid crazy money while mine, in my eye just as pretty or even much prettier, languish with no bids.

The obvious answer is to stop looking at what other artists are listing and selling.

It helps that my buying urge is on a leash right now. I haven't been bidding much and I've been outbid on the few things I did bid on, but the real win is that I'm not trawling the Facebook lampwork sales sites for beads to add to my collection. I list and I get out. In fact, I've engineered things so all my listings are auctions, all of them end at the same time, usually 1 pm or 5 pm, and I don't have to hang out on Facebook all day in case I get a buy-it-now. I know some people won't bid, they will only buy-it-now, but on the flip side, plenty of people were bidding the opening bid on my auctions and taking their chances on saving that $3 to $5 more.

This week is the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB) annual conference, known as "The Gathering" and this year it's in Albuquerque. The Gathering alternates its location year-to-year. Last year it was in Houston. Next year it will be in New Orleans.

I've been to three Gatherings. My first was in Miami in 2009, about 18 months into my beadmaking journey. I won a scholarship, partly funded by the Houston Society for Glass Beadmakers (HSGB), informally known as "The Houston Hotties." The scholarship was based on the essay I wrote (what I hoped to get out of the conference, what I committed to give back to the glass community if chosen, etc.) and 3 letters of recommendation. It was not based on talent or financial need.

My parents were alive then, still in good health and living in Fort Lauderdale. Neil and his dad traveled with me. Several Houston area beadmakers were there, all sharing a room at the hotel, while I did my own thing, because that's how I roll. For some of my Houston cohorts, the Gathering was their big hurrah, a chance to get away from home and family and party down.

The actual conference opens on Thursday evening and runs through the bead swap on Sunday night. Traditionally, Friday and Sunday are packed with lectures and filmed demos, Saturday is the Bead Bazaar (imagine 100 tables of some of the best lampwork bead artists' wok) and Saturday night the banquet and live auction. There are extras like gallery tours, there is a technical vendor area with glass and tools for sale, and there is Open Torch, where those who wish to can hang out and melt glass.

Gathering action really starts on Monday of the week leading up to the conference. Many participants arrive early to take classes. So for some it's a full week event and a pretty penny, considering class fees, hotel rooms, meals, transportation and what not. I've never been able to drop the dime. I did have fun in Miami, but I had my safety net too, Neil and his dad, so I had someone to eat dinner with.

Here is where I admit, to those who don't already know this about me, that I am a world class introvert with self-confidence issues, who finds it hard to walk into a room where I don't know anyone and join a conversation. I have a hard time going up to a table at a meal and asking to join a group of people I don't know. And no matter how politely they welcome me, I always have a sense that I'm not really wanted, or maybe that they are merely indifferent.

Age-old baggage. I've worked hard to shush the voices in my head and to embrace the philosophy that what other people think about me is none of my business. But I think I keep people at arms length rather than risk rejection. I'm quick to imagine that other people are ignoring me or don't love me, when in fact there is no reason for anyone not to like me and they are probably just introverts themselves who are imagining I don't like them.

Did I convince you? Yeah, no,, me either.

Two years after Miami, I went to the Gathering in Bellevue, Washington State. I only registered for one day, Sunday, and I shared a table at the Bead Bazaar with a lampworker I hooked up with on Lampwork Etc. Neil went with me again. We flew up on Friday and I got to go to Open Torch on Friday night. We stayed until Monday, so I got to go to the bead swap on Sunday night. As usual I opted not to pay the extra money for the banquet, so I had dinner with Neil (who'd gone to a Mariners game while I worked the Bazaar) and then I sat at the back of the ballroom for the live auction.

The justification for going to the Bellevue Gathering was that nearby Seattle was the launch point for our funky adventure on the Amtrak Empire Builder and our visit to Glacier National Park.

If the Gathering last year had not been in Houston, I doubt I'd have gone. I skipped Rochester twice and St. Louis once. I won't say I'd never go to another. In fact, all the posts on Facebook from the attendees have made me a little nostalgic and slightly envious. I can't exactly say I wish I was there. I can say I wish I was one of the popular people, the ones who feel completely in their element there. One of the ones in a group going up in an air balloon, or trading beads before the official bead swap, or huddled excitedly around the pool bar drinking margaritas. Except that I don't drink.

The Houston Gathering was fun for me because I had a posse. It did seem silly that all of us Houston attendees sat together at lunch and met up in the lobby bar and saved seats for each other in the presentations. But it gave me a chance to have a different experience, one where I wasn't avoiding opportunities to interact with other beadmakers because I had Neil to eat dinner with.

I've never been to New Orleans. It's a 350 mile drive. I might think about going. I might even put on my big girl pants and go by myself, without Neil. If I do, I should probably take a class, which would be a safe, structured way to meet some people and maybe make dinner plans with them, just like a grownup.

Or maybe I'll skip it and just go to Bead Camp.

Some new work. I'm a little bit proud of these.

"My heart's not ready for the rocking chair
I need somebody who really cares
So tired of living solitaire
Someday I'm gonna be
Safe in the arms of love

Strip your heart and it starts to snow
Love is a high-wire act I know
Someday I'll find a net below
Someday I'm gonna be
Safe in the arms of love

I want a heart to be forever mine
Want eyes to see me satisfied
Gonna hang my heartaches out to dry
Some day I'm gonna be
Safe in the arms of love

I want arms that know how to rock me
Safe in the arms of love
I wanna fall and know that love has caught me
Safe in the arms of love."

(Mary Ann Kennedy, Pam Rose, Pat Bunch)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

You can't leave home again

But I'd trade all those cancelled tickets for a single return fare
To a station with a loved one waiting there.

Naturally, since I whinged about dot beads not selling well for me, dot bead sales have been hotter than Sugar Land in July.

I could barely give them away for $2 per bead and yesterday a set of 3 dot pairs went for $35.

I started to feel guilty, but then I reminded myself that I have seen 3 pairs by other artists go for north of $70, on many occasions.

And the icing on this particular cake was that the buyer joined my Facebook group and bought 5 more items, including 2 Warring States Dynasty style beads, traditional dot pattern beads that have sold dismally for me historically, for the most part.

I'm happy again. I got this, I own this.

Happy is a good thing after our North Carolina junket.

We flew to Raleigh on the 4th of July, a Saturday. We arrived early enough to look at some model homes - except the information center had closed at 3 pm, approximately 10 minutes before we pulled up. The model homes were mostly closed for the holiday too. We did visit one model, by a builder we'd never heard of and drove around a bit.

Neil didn't like the style of homes, they were wood rather than brick, with very pointy roofs, and the lots were small.

So we went to get some ice cream and found a gelato place open. After that we tramped around the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, which was a lot of buildings and not enough green space, although there was a cute little arboretum, and the weather, while hot, was not ridiculous.

We checked into our hotel, lucked into finding an open restaurant where we had an above average dinner, and then we went up to the top of the hotel parking structure (among a couple of hundred others with the same bright idea). We saw at least 5 separate fireworks shows, all in the distance in every direction.

So, we belatedly realized that on the following day, Sunday, most model homes probably would not be open until afternoon. We were headed to Charlotte that night anyway, so I suggested we drive in the morning and arrive after noon. Since we can never seem to get going early on vacation, it just made sense.

We'd been to Charlotte a year earlier, and had started looking around in the north, based on a casual conversation I'd had on Facebook with one of my customers, who said Cornelius was nice. We'd immediately stumbled into a community called Robbin's Park, being developed by a builder called Classica. We'd both liked the quality and one model in particular.

We'd spent the rest of our first visit to Charlotte visiting all the places Classica was building, working our way from north to south.

This time we started in the south and worked our way north. We started with two communities we'd visited previously. Both had been developed to a degree, but there were still plenty of lots left. Then we visited 3 new locations, called reserves, with a small number of homes and no amenities (pools, community centers, walking trails, etc.) Along the way, we kept up our ice cream tradition with Carvel. Eventually we wound up back on the north side of town, where we had a noisy but tasty pub dinner while America played Japan in the World Cup.

In the morning, we headed to Robbin's Park, which now is about 90 percent built out, and like many things in life, did not hold up to our romanticized memories or at least to mine. I didn't love the model home I'd loved the year before. There were a few nice lots left, including 4 or so that were being used for drainage during construction and might not even be for sale for another year.

All things being equal, even Neil would say we aren't in a position to take action yet anyway. He's not sure when he will retire - it might be as soon as this year or not for a couple more years, thought he thinks a year is the most likely timeframe. I remain skeptical, but I also remain silent about it.

The best news as far as Neil was concerned was the intelligence that in the next year Classica would almost definitely begin developing 60-some homes on a new piece of land that a developer had acquired. It would not be a planned community like Robbin's park, just houses on a subdivided piece of land. From the plat it appeared that there were some nice lots backing up on a wooded preserve.

Now we get to the interesting part of the story. The whole thing suddenly became overwhelming to me. The idea of moving someplace essentially unfamiliar, a place where we know no one, a place that is a thousand miles further away from our children, sunk in, in a way it hadn't so far. I dissolved. We sat at Carolina Cones, eating 4 of their 43 flavors of ice cream and my eyes would not stop leaking.

And that's pretty much how it went for the rest of the day.

Neil kept pointing out how our whole relationship had been built upon our joint desire to leave Texas one day. I said, things change. There is a grandchild now. There will probably be more grandchildren in time. My parents are dead now. Houston is as hot and flat as ever but family trumps weather and topography.

I also said, I'm not ruling anything out, I'm not saying I'll never move, but at this 10 seconds of the universe unfolding, I can't see it. I can't see myself being as happy there. We'd be so dependent on each other. I don't make friends easily. I didn't see one house that I loved as much as I love our house.

A heated and air-conditioned studio has always been a dangling carrot for a move, for me. For 7 years now I have worked in the garage. It's not ideal, but I've adjusted and I can continue to cope. I don't even know if I will still be making beads in a year, 2 years, 3 years. Chances are good that I will, but chances also are good that if I'm lonely and sad living in North Carolina, my muse may get ticked enough to start phoning it in.

I'm not the same girl who packed her stereo, all her vinyl and a wardrobe of T-shirts and blue jeans in her '65 Plymouth Fury and drove from New York to Texas. I was 23 years old. I didn't have a child, a mortgage, furniture, not even a cat (never mind a husband and 3 cats).

Monday night found us back in Raleigh. We drove around a bit more, visited some developments that Neil had found online. We got to see one model home, arriving 10 minuted before closing time this time. We weren't impressed with the builder or the lots or the future highway easement. We tried to salvage the day with a wood-fired pizza dinner. I was still weepy, Neil was disappointed in me, and we still had all of Tuesday ahead to look at more options for places to move.

Several things conspired to compound my misery. I was reading Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, a novel about the first World War. I'd seen the BBC dramatization (twice). It's a terribly sad story, despite its redeeming message of hope and a comparatively happy ending. That was one thing.

The other thing, one that I haven't been able to talk to Neil about because I think he will dismiss it, is my history or connection with North Carolina. For 3 years after my marriage ended I was in a relationship with a man I met online, who lived in Raleigh and had done so all his life. He was a lawyer and a kind person, a highly intelligent man who adored me, but he suffered from that biochemical imbalance known as depression. He was fine, more or less, for most of the time we were together, or at least so he led me to believe.

Nonetheless, almost from the start, romantic as it was to have someone be so head over heels about me, reassuring as it was to have someone with whom I could talk about literally anything and everything, I had misgiving. It was the distance that sustained the longevity of our relationship. He was safely in Raleigh and I was safely in Jersey Village and while we talked all the time about Robin finding a job in Texas and moving, I never really believed it would happen.

In talk, in theory, we agreed that North Carolina was a nicer place to live than Texas, but I wasn't going to move my kids or take them away from their father, and I sure as hell wasn't going to leave them. The first time I visited Robin, a few months after he came to meet me in Texas, I flew to Raleigh and we turned around and drove to Tennessee, where we stayed in a cabin with a hot tub and hiked in the Smokies. On another visit, my kids came with me and we drove to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a dance competition.

I think there may have only been one visit where I went to see him in Raleigh and we stayed in Raleigh for the length of my trip. I felt very depressed while I was there. I missed my kids badly. We went out to dinner with his sister and her husband, nice people, and I thought I was covering up how sad I felt. But later Robin told me that his sister remarked on how depressed I seemed. Her words were something like, she would need to take more Prozac if she spend much time around me.

That might have been the last time I visited Robin in Raleigh, but I vividly remember that I was in a crisis. We did a lot of walking because I felt better if I was outdoors and kept moving. It had nothing to do with Raleigh itself. It was just a fragile time in my life. My divorce was final and past appeal. I wasn't grieving for the marriage or the man, I was grieving for the loss of some happy family dream, and I suspect I knew Robin wasn't my future but I wasn't ready to admit it yet, to hurt him, to be completely alone.

All of that really has nothing to do with today. Robin and I remained close for 8 years, including 5 years after I declared the romance over. Many things happened. I met Marty, I lost Marty. Robin met Sue, Robin lost Sue. Robin had a benign mass in his brain. Surgery did not affect his intellect but it took a lot out of him. He came to a point where he lost his will to live. He cut off all contact with me.

Some time later I friended his sister on Facebook. She told me he was living in a group home and had cut off contact with his family too, including his own kids. He spent his days taking the bus to the library and reading. She told me that she sent him a little spending money every week and that her husband had run into Robin, who had claimed he was happy.

There were other things, some I'd known, some I hadn't. I knew he'd run up a mountain of credit card debt and was making minimum payments, even at the time we were a couple, although I only found out near the end of that time. I didn't know that he'd stopped renewing his law license (while continuing to practice) and that he hadn't filed an income tax return since I'd known him and that he now owed the government another mountain of money.

It is what it is. I miss him, but it's been 9 years or maybe 10 since he ghosted out of my life. I'll be grateful to him for being such a good friend at the time I most needed him and staying until I was well and truly ready to let him go.

On our last day in Raleigh, Neil commented that I seemed to be feeling better. And it was true, because I was going home the next day. Neil even offered to blow off the retirement living scouting and just do a fun activity for our last day, but I thought we should see it through. We went and looked at more houses built on pretty wooded lots and Neil worried about the trees being so close to the house should a bad storm come along. Mental note: view of woods at a distance good, living among trees not so much.

We wound up back in the very first subdivision we'd visited and this time the welcome center and all the models were open. We did talk to a builder we were impressed with and saw some lots on a deliciously named Bennet Mountain Road. The community had several future phases planned, so hypothetically in a year or two or three, there would still be possibilities for building a house.

The best news for me was that the same planned community developer is building in the Texas Hill Country too. I'm hoping when then weather cools, around mid-October, Neil and I can check out those places and maybe find something appealing. It would still be hot in the summer but we'd be off the Gulf Coast with it's hurricane threat and by definition the topography would be at least somewhat hilly.

And now we're home. Back to the red earth of Sugar Land. The future is safely back in the future and I won't think about it today. I'll think about it tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

"It's been a long time since I've seen the high plains of Expectation
And I'm way past the lowlands and the deserts of Failure and Doubt
And the last time I passed through Satisfaction
I didn't recognize a single soul there.
Now I'm leaving Normal and I'm heading for Who Knows Where

Excuse me mister, is that seat taken,
Can I put my bag over here?
You know this trip will go a whole lot smoother
If you take your hand from there
No, I'm not from around here
And my name's not Little Darlin'
Why is there one in every crowd
And why do I attract them?

Funny how the smell of a Greyhound bus
Now smells like a fresh start to me
And how the sounds of the steel belts on the blacktop
Is now the sounds of breaking free
But I'd trade all those cancelled tickets for a single return fare
To a station with a loved one waiting there

I've finally learned that there's good and bad
And that a girl can do some choosing
Of that I'm glad cause this hardened face
Won't take any more bruising

Yeah, and the next time I fall into another's arms
There's one thing of which I'll be certain
That he can bare the weight of the love I give
Without considering it a burden

It's been a long time since I've seen the high plains of Expectation
And I'm way past the lowlands and the deserts of Failure and Doubt
And the last time I passed through Satisfaction
I felt like a stranger there
Now I'm leaving Normal and I'm heading for Who Knows Where

Now I'm leaving Normal wherever I'm heading,
Well, I don't care."

(Margo Timmins, Michael Timmins)