Lately it’s been raining off and on in Paris and sometimes snowing. Today it’s overcast but I notice bits of white light find their way onto my path as I make my way to the 7th arrondissement. I pass rue de bac, the eric bompard cachemire store, a cafe/restaurant that hasn’t been open since last October called Les Antiquaires. The deep brown and cream early 1900s decor reflects the name but somehow feels older, dustier than even the vintage bike parked out in front of it. I cross the street and step into the Le Pave D’Orsay gallery. The echoing of my boots on slats makes it feel vacant but the color palette in the paintings brings a warmth, an intimacy. Clare Thackey is waiting for me, snuggled to one side having coffee in a mustard cup. She harmonizes with the color palette of her latest paintings in a heather grey v neck wearing a short strawberry bob with bangs and calm with eucalyptus green eyes.
“The idea of ‘start’ feels like... “do I have the energy to force it? What if I fail - that I’d have to start something new? What hasn’t worked - that that means beginning again?”
“When you think of the word exhausting, what do you think of?” I eye the little brown biscuits she’s offered on the table while she thinks.
“Hummm...like you’ve worked really hard…”
“...or maybe like your pushing something up a hill…”
“...its like - not flowing…
“So I guess that idea of start...it’s the beginning of something. You’re about to push something up a hill. It’s not like you’re in the middle of flow. You’ve got all these things ahead of you. Which can be exciting...it can be new...and…” She adds, “refreshing…”
“When you push something up a hill, what do you imagine that to be?” I wonder aloud.
“Ahhhh you mean like a physical object?” Uh huh, I say.
“I think it’s more like a heavy…body...an unfit... heavy load - that you need to build.” She’s imagining this heaviness as she stares up and to the right.
“I think also ‘start’ for me also means about a building of a fitness, you know? She looks me in the eye.
“As you go on with the project, you build that fitness and you end up in that flow state or whatever that is…”
I'm intrigued, “Is that eventually or you do that….in building that…?”
“I think a start isn’t that flow state. I think the start is setting the parameters - pushing that thing forward and then you…
“...I guess I’m kinda thinking of it in terms of running. You start running...your body aches. You feel all the muscles in your body, you might feel your bones, feel the clicks and what’s not working...and then suddenly you warm up, you get in this flow state.” I let her continue.
I took a swig of coffee as a break to review my notes. I wanted to see if we could go back to expound on that notion of “pushing a physical object” up a hill.
She responds, “I guess I was thinking about that metaphor of ‘pushing a rock up a hill’. But then I think the reason why that's hard is because it's your own physical body...your own physical fitness…
or..building that conditioning for yourself...to then make that load easier. So whatever that is, the effort is your own limitations and your own body.”
"Clare, You mentioned that as you build fitness, it feels clunky. Then it sounds like you’re saying that after a while you get the wheels turning and you finally hit a state of flow. What does ‘flow’ mean to you?” We are no longer alone in our analysis of the painting called ‘start’. A man hears us speaking english. It looks like he’s confused by my California accent and Clare’s australian sound.
“Hummmmm...flow….I’m thinking flow in terms of a psychological idea. It’s that state where you’re in extreme focus, but it's not effort-full. But it sort of feels as though you’re not looking at the clock. Eight hours could pass and you're in this sort of state of focus - you're not lost in it. It's almost like meditation. You’re completely lost in the process.
So it's like, you’ve gotten to this peak of this hill of this effort….and then you’re rolling down. Your gaining momentum...you're gaining speed. It's almost like you're riding a bike, riding down a hill...things feel like they're flowing.
Which isn't about-I don’t think that’s related to ‘start’. You get all these things together and then you know, you push and push and push and then you’re goooooing you know?”
I'm enjoying the enactment of her pushing something - maybe a cart with her daughter inside. “Why do you think you said that? Is that coming from a logical point of view?”
“No no...it’s coming from an experiential point of view. I don’t know about you, but like when I start creative processes, I ask myself what are the parameters...what are the rules for this?
“At what point do you do this?”
“At the start…
...I’m gonna work with these people, limit to these 5 elements or this is the timeframe, the scale, the tools I'm gonna use. That’s the initial effort stage. And then on, it's a matter of executing. You might have influences, different voices, different things coming into it but those parameters are already set. So the flow state is when you’ve got all those things sorted out and then you’re off and running.
Clara talks about setting parameters and building a fitness for a good start.
Clare talked about ‘start’ like Sam (in day 4) did with their hill-peak-rolling analogies. You climb it (like a roller coaster) does or in Clara’s case, push a rock up a hill. Sometimes it looks like setting the parameters and rules for a project and other times writing a proposal. By doing that part, you have ‘started’ or rather ‘finished.’ Then afterwards, it's downhill from there- in a state of flow, the release of exhaustion.
I would if we could still find a ‘start’ that’s easier to reach? I’d love to have the benefits of euphoria first...or however you describe flow...before that hard climb.
What would happen if we were to reverse it? What if we could say that in order to ‘start’, one would need to flow...first. That in order to get up that hill (representing start), we need to initiate flow.
For Clare, flow was all about meditation, a state of extreme focus, being loss in the process. What if one was to do things that felt like meditation, where one could get into that state. Different people have various meditative processes - some do yoga, others do breath meditation. (You could possibly make a case that riding roller coasters puts you in a meditative state.) During our chat, Clare mentioned she liked to run. Would that be one thing to help you get you to a point of flow?
My favorite author, at the moment, is Haruki Murakami. He’s written over 21 books and in 2015 was added to Time Magazine’s list of most influential figures. He runs 10K and participates in triathlons at 72 years old. Is that how he gets into a state of flow...how he “climbs”….to ‘start’?
What do you think? What is your definition of flow? Of ‘start’? What’s symbolic as the climb for you and what would make it easier?
Check out her pieces on Instagram or on her website. My favorite piece is called Longing Forward, 2020, oil on canvas, 65cm x 54cm. What are yours?
What was going on in 1946? Charles de Gaulle resigns as president of France and the first United Nations meeting was held. The British Housing Act also passed providing subsidies for over 800,000 local authority houses and a similar wave for housing construction swept the US and Canada that year as a part of the war effort.
How society translates words can make one quite curious. So it seems worth it to take a deep dive into this word, especially since it’s the beginning of a new year.
I spoke with Sam Callahan, New York Comedy TV writer, this time about the word “start”.
Have a look at our conversation that leads us through an artistic path of processes, images of triangles and ongoing talk of roller coasters. See if you can spot how we could, perhaps, get through the challenge of the “start”.
Sam has hair like my aunt - a fluff of unruly blond waves. In our writing co-working group she usually gathers it up in a single puff on top. Before our 45 min-write to 15 min-break routine goes underway, all 14 of us take turns explaining what we plan to work on for that session. Usually it's a revision of a play here, edit a novel there but Sam says she’s rescripting a comedy piece for a TV pilot. During what should have been 45 min of work, Sam and I bombarded the chat box with "oh-my-gods" and "I can't believe you are from the Bay Area toos" and the curious, "how did you become a TV writer?"
We've stayed in touch since last year and today I call her on Zoom to talk about Tarot cards and online dictionaries before diving into the interview. How did we get from there to nerding out on infinity notebooks and multi-planners?
I finally flip to a new page in my book to take some notes for our interview.
“Sam, when you see the word, start, what does it look like?”
"Hummm... " She blows out smoke while she takes a cigarette break on the porch.
“...crossing edges...” One of her cats floats across her screen.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Its a term my life coach uses. It’s like when you come up to an edge, you’re at a precipice or something. In a big way, I’m about to email my boss asking him if I can be on set….ok? It’s a new thing...a scary thing...I’m putting myself out there, out of the gate. So once I send the email, I then, ‘cross the edge.’
“...it’s like a triangle...” She must she my brows knitted and explains more.
The imagery in my head is a triangle. So whatever the action is, that’s the triangle...and the edge crossing it, that’s the scary bit. You approach the edge, then it’s all downhill.
“So if it’s a triangle, which edge are you crossing?”
“The top. The peak….you’re like falling over the peak. Her voice heightens, “Like in a roller coaster. You go up and up and up and up….then you go….wooooooooooooo...scholk!”
I’m trying not to laugh but I love that she is reliving the feeling of falling from that peak. Her sound effects are complete with the roller coaster braking sound, “scholk”, at the end to let out passengers.
“Do you like roller coasters Sam?”
"In actuality, I do actually really like roller coasters...I really like roller coasters."
“What was your first-est ... best-est roller coaster ride....like the thing?” I'm looking at my notes, did I really say...first-est and best-est? Oh god.
“My first one was Medusa, the highest, at Six Flags New Jersey but the best one was the Batman and the Superman. The Superman one you get strapped in standing up and they turn you over on your belly...there's nothing underneath you...it's like you're flying” (before you start the ride). I’m thinking Sam likes to scare herself...or fly, or both.
“The best experience one though, was when I was at a cheer competition and California Adventure opened the park after hours for all the cheerleaders so there was a lot of...peer pressure." She pauses. She said there was one ride that starts on the ground, count-down and goes from 0-60 mph in like a millisecond. I don't remember the name but it was "the" ride. It shot you into nowhere..." She laughs and adds, "...but left your stomach behind."
“The entire time I was in line, I was like “no no nope, I’m not gonna do this, absolutely not. What am I doing. Why am I in line?"
“Wait...but why?” I was curious why she was still in line. Sam comes back into the house and scoops up her black cat.
“Because it’s terrifying...terrifying. I get so scared. But I like it. And then I get on it and have so much fun. And I get in line again and I think, ‘nope, nope, nope.’ And go through the same thing again.”
I look up, reflecting on my upcoming creative projects. I wonder if I could use a sort of adrenaline shot like that to help myself up that ridge of the “start.” I suspect I could take on challenges that actually create that rush...I guess...for the possibility of achieving a goal...
She continues in a stop start motion, almost like the ride she’s describing. “If I can-I always try to get into the front row-cause there’s something amazing-cause it’s that crossing edge feeling-except thrilling-feeling." Now slower she inclines back on her couch, “Sooo you’ve got the fear...and then you are coming up to the edge...
Ee-rr-ee--rr--ee--rr”...like literally (climbing) up to the literal edge (like the coaster on the hill)-and then as you start to tip over, cause the rest of the car’s going in-there’s a second...you hang there before it falls. Her voice trails off. There's only the sound of me scribbling in my notebook left.
I look back up and she jets, “...And you don’t usually feel it as much when you’re in the back. When you’re in the front, you’re dangling over and you can see the slope...of the tracks going down....and you’re like...oh my god...ohmygodohmygod-ahhhhhhhhhhhh…. She plays back the sound of the drop.
"...And that feeling - that’s my favorite part ever.”
I wonder if I could use a sort of adrenaline rush like that to help myself up that ridge of the “start.”
In the beginning of our call, Sam related the word “start” to "an edge”. When we got to the image of "a triangle" she made it seem like the work came in climbing to the top of that triangle ...that process of getting so close to that edge. Then we just simply "drop over and the rest is easy". I am constantly amazed how these examinations always start with the same question, then take us in different directions.
Now I'm curious. I make a big asterisk and note to brainstorm challenges or ways to get that roller coaster adeline rush that could perhaps get me up to that ‘edge’. Why not take it as a literal prescription for achieving goals?
Maybe watch these roller coaster videos for an adrenaline rush every morning...or do a version of the ice bucket challenge! I'm sure Richard Branson or Elon musk must do something like a plane dive as their "climb" to the edge.
But I must say, it's my goal for you, the reader, to make your own conclusions during this series, to see about how this simple examination could inspire you and your creative business.
Here were other interesting things I got out of my conversation with Sam about my own process of goal setting.
Start means getting to the edge: the tippi-est tip of that triangle example she used. Then the rest is easy. They say, the more you stick your feet in, the more that cold water becomes temperate, the more tempered becomes warm. The first time I read the beginnings of my memoir out loud in front of others, for example, I felt there was like an iron printing press in my chest working overtime. I was panicked! I'm hoping it will get easier. Someone advised me once to set a rule of 5. Repeat the smallest, most minute part of a task from your project five times - to not worry about the result of actual project. I set a small challenge of reading aloud five paragraphs, five different times in my writing group. I’m on the second time. I even panicked more than the first! I’m waiting for the third time next week. I can’t wait until it gets easier. I close my eyes and….start just by finding the part I want to read on my document. Then repeat.
Maybe I'll try getting to the edge with Facebook too. Posting on social media isn’t easy right? It’s like putting yourself out there. Maybe I can take the most minute part of that task and do it 5 times like with my reading. Maybe that means I take (or edit) one image each day for 5 days and save it in a folder for future business banners. That's it. Maybe I revise one part of my profile everyday for 5 days. I am just sticking my feet in, feeling the temperature, climbing to the edge. One day when I feel up to posting just one image, It’ll be ready. Then I'll repeat it for five days. If five is too much, I'll try 3!
The more small challenges I do, the more I know I will meet my 2021 goals. Write now I’m doing a "wake up everyday at 5am, 6 days a week" challenge. Sigh….2 days done, 4 to go. I also created a crazy 21 day blog challenge! I’ve never written so many posts in a week before!
What small challenges or measured changes in your everyday routine is on your list to achieve this year?
*start (v.): https://www.etymonline.com/word/start
By the way, you know Google of course has everything, even a video of the Incredicoaster from California Adventurer Theme Park Sam talks about. I found a point of view shot from the front row!
Click here to see. Talk about an adrenaline rush for the morning! Nineteen sec in, at the depart, I’m excited. At minute 1:50 I’m yelling in my apartment at 8am, reliving the ‘ohmygodohmygod-ahhhhhhhhhhhh’ moment from Sam’s story. What a way to go from zero.... to ‘start'?
You can connect with Sam and hear more stories on twitter, on her Patreon page or on a TV set in New York.
Everyone has their own interpretation of the word “start” and I can’t wait to see how designers and artists, from San Francisco to Paris, examine it.
To recap, my first interview was with Paula Pfotenhauer, designer and patternmaker out of Oakland, CA. Her examination of the word came out artist-fully abstract, yet it surprisingly helped me make concrete changes to my daily routine and have an understanding of “the how” of getting my writing done. Who knew that interpretation would have had those kinds of results? What's around the next corner?
Today I have the opportunity to have a dialogue with online retailer turned digital marketer, Miracle Wanzo of Vallejo, CA. I wanted to interview her because when we met back in 2002, she was juggling family, retailing and also in the midst of making lingerie for her site Hip Undies. She gave such valuable insight about her process then, I was curious about how she might be able to help us “see”.
As I reflect on my interviews so far, I notice one person manipulates scraps of fabric into a product, the other uses bits of code to development a product. One uses charted analysis to attract customers; the other, drapes jacquard jersey. Each has their own way of converting a customer.
With over 25 years of experience, Miracle shares openly. After her lingerie e-store was firmly established, Miracle started producing her own pieces for the store. Dealing with sizing issues and fabric frustrations, she decided to solely focus on how to best market the store and convert shoppers.
“Miracle, you’ve dabbled in apparel manufacturing, been featured on podcasts about creating fashion brands, presented as a panelist talking about smart traffic and spotlighted on the blog, My Wife Quit Her Job, explaining how people can run profitable facebook ads to sell physical products online. What should we say your title is?”
“Yeah, that’s true. I do a lot of things.” I hear the clicking of the keys on her keyword. It’s 11pm in California. “I’m actually a product developer.”
Interesting choice of two words forming her specialty. I met Miracle after I returned to the Bay Area, in 2003, from teaching in France. I didn’t have a clear direction of what I wanted to do. I only knew I wanted to create products and develop them in a way they would make me money. I admitted that to a friend and she suggested I speak to her.
“What does the word 'start' mean to you as a product developer?”
Miracle gives me three words,“to-take-action." Starting (an apparel line) now is different than when we took that ‘how to make a handbag’ class (after you returned from France). It used to mean making patterns and going to market*. The focus was all about finding sewing contractors and connecting with factories. The barriers to entry were a lot lower. Now, suppliers are easier to find.” I know she could go on forever. She used to write for Fashion Business Incubator.
“Yep, (starting) is different these days with the onset of digital patternmaking and even more so with cut and sew sublimation. You’ll be 80% ready (to produce your own collection) with just a couple of modifications of your patterns.”
I enjoy talking 'shop' with Miracle. What she means is that after you figure out your design and the print you might want to create, garment panels are cut and printed before they are sewn together. "There were a lot of other steps to this process in the past. You’d have to find a wide format printer and a rolling heat press among other things, even before elements of the garment were put together. Now you just have to choose the right company and you will be production ready in no time. The minimums are lower and (that makes everyone happy).”
Miracle was getting down to the nitty gritty of fashion. I almost forget to stay on topic. I come back around to one of the three words she used above to describe 'start.'
“Tell me more about that word “action.”
“ummmm…” She has a soft voice, her umms and ohhhh are sing-songy and she fits a lot into a sentence so I have to listen carefully.
“Sorry...what was that...executive?”
“...taking stuff from your head to reality."
“If you are starting with a product, or at least have a general idea of it, then you take the idea (from your head) to a supplier - try sourcing it directly from them. If it's aesthetically close to yours, you can ask quick questions about it's production time, pricing, etc. Then you use those details to complete or make the final touches to your own design.”
I see what Miracle is talking about. She suggests that you could stumble into a profitable design without the problems of well...designing. Take the pricing of the fabric and production costs they have already packaged for someone else and back into the margins or a starting point to negotiate landing cost with another factory, for example. This is very interesting and reminds me I'm talking to a product developer. It’s interesting how our path of analyzing the word start turned into ‘action’, then ‘executive’, and into creating profitable designs.
Miracle fills me in on some recent work with designers she’s been doing through her agency called Discover Marketing.
“It’s hard to market for them when they are caught up in their brand vision.”
“Most designers concentrate on their fashion brand - it's personal - it’s about their voice - their concept. That’s fine but they forget that brands are driven by the market. We need to talk about methodology, I don't care what the product is.” I write in my notes, “brand vision vs fashion brand."
“Miracle, if you could market brands or create products for designers, which one would you do?”
“Oh that’s a good question. If the brand needs a lot of help with marketing, yes, I might. If I don’t need to fiddle with (the product) a lot...if it's a fun project...cool product...no drama...no egos….their good at their craft….” She trails off into her ideal client and I hear more keystrokes, like that was her finishing thought.
I can’t wait to dive in deeper with her and continue our chat. This is part one of my conversation. She’ll talk more about Instashop Vs Amazon Vs Your own e-Shop in our second interview later in the series.
*Going to Market: seasonal industry trade shows and meetings bringing retailers customers and designers, buyers.
Before we start the 21 day blog series examining this word called "start" and how it may apply to our design and creative businesses, I wanted to share an experience I had with a mentee recently.
We started our conversation with "what's my first step in creating my collection." We wrapped ourselves in product questions like where she should look for fabric, how the margins should be factored in to the final price, what questions she should ask the first time meeting a new pattern maker and more. Something had been tugging at me during our chat and finally towards the end of our session, I asked her if she was interested in being the head of her own company.
I think I may have stunned her a bit. Silence I waited, curious about the answer. She stammered a bit and let out, "well, i guess..."
I probably should have given her my little workbook to work out answers of key questions, before we started our session but often we start...not knowing where to start.
Below I offer you eight key questions to consider before you start diving into the "how" and "what" of your idea. And of course if you'd like some further explanation about each of them, do me a favor and click here to request the small workbook I put together to help you through the thinking behind these questions. I also offer alternatives avenues to head toward, based on your answers. It takes the form of sort of a roadmap of reflection. I often hear consultants tell designers one or two of these at various seminars but I put together a full list based on my own experience. They are pretty important and top among the list of "most know things to reflect on" before you start any creative business, especially a design business.
Questions to ask yourself, as an independent designer, before you start:
Paula Pfotenhauer is owner of Jeja Design Studios in Oakland, California. She's spend a large part of her 30 years of design and patternmaking experience overseas in quality control and sourcing and comes from a line of artists. Paula is the perfect person to begin our How to See series.
It's 10:23pm and the phone's on its fifth ring, I think I might need to call back.
What will Paula say when I ask her to do a deep dive on the simple word, "start"? She knows how creative and...unusual I can be so maybe she won't look at me sideways and just plunge in with me.
"Hi! It's been a while Paula!" We do the hows the family and covid and business and lockdown and go down the path of french nostalgia and design and writing and I tell her I need her designer brain. Paula knows the industry in and out - working in Asia, understanding how factories work, patternmaking for designers helping them create their collection, producing her own line, painting, drawing and making pieces from recycled materials, always practicing zero waste.
When I explain the concept of the 21 day blog series on "how to see" the word "start", paper shifts into the phone. I imagine she's looking up somewhere to a corner of her studio, in reflection. Maybe she's sitting on the stool in her studio, right in the middle of two sewing workstations and a huge 5ft cutting table. She's one of my mentors, I've been there more times I can count.
What does the word “start” mean to you?
“...it’s that type of effect that gets you to make a decision. If it feels like a pulling...(like you are being drawn to start), you are lucky. If it's a pushing effect, it's drive. She explains, you are driven to be successful, (maybe) to prove someone wrong. You are successful but not joyfully.”
"Hummm, it's like you just have to do it. (Doing ‘it’) takes focus, it’s pure action...without thinking of anything else. It’s a thoughtless thing.”
I begin thinking of thoughtless things - yoga, meditation, making something. I wonder if she meant that one must be so focused you don't think of anything else. She continued, “you have to suspend everything else. There is a shift that occurs when you step into it.”
"What else does it mean to you?" I pressed on.
“Giving up a freedom…” Is that why some people don’t 'start' - because it’s like they are giving up a freedom? I wondered to myself.
“A battle with authority”, she jets out, startling me. Thank goodness she can’t see my mouth gaped open, astonished at such an unusual response. "What do you mean?"
Dad said, “we rebel against our own inward (or internal) authority...that the only real authority is the one that resides within us. Everything else is a choice.”
Can you tell me what else the word authority means to you?
Obey...oppression...indentured...slave...obligation...something “over me”...authority...Dad taught me to question authority.
"Questioning authority?" I asked.
She sighed a reflective tone, "like, who is your authority?” “Who do you listen to?”
I was so curious this came up, I responded in turn with the question, “umm, how do you find out who that is...or what that is?”
“Well...how do you?” I’m done...now it’s your turn (to answer), she handed over.
Giving it a good “humph” with a lot of air, my eyes roll up the ceiling, then over to my ficus looking for the answer, a little frustrated now that I'm in the cat birds seat. Pensively, “I think... authority is someone you admire. Someone who can tell you what to do and who you don’t get mad at. It’s who you give power over you... in certain ways.”
I reflected more, “I admire certain jazz composers in their complex layering of sounds. Let’s see...I like authors like (Haruki) Murakami. I guess that’s why I aim to get up at 5am- because he said so! I mean it’s not like he called me up and told me if I want to get this book finished, to do it. But I saw a clip with him explaining his own process of writing: awake at 4am, write for 5-6 hours listening to jazz, run a 10k, eat, read, repeat. Something about him explaining his routine resonated with me but I gotta tell you it wasn’t the 4am bit nor the 10k! It’s not like other artists haven’t given “how to be a productive artist” advice like that. Youtube shows tons of people ready to tell you how to write better or be more productive, but you have to “see” the vision they are offering. I “see” Murakami’s. He shows me a way I can create in the quiet of the night at 5am.
I see how he plays within and around the boundaries of rules and freedom, in how he communicates. His writing takes place in very real settings, in present time, with very real problems characters experience. Then he weaves in mystical ways of sharing advice or philosophy, not shoving down the reader’s throat. I see his vision for the reader, his creativity displayed. He’s accessible, trustworthy. So yes, I guess I gave him authority over me.
After I hung up, I thought more about what Paula mentioned about freedom and authority. I never thought that if I had rules, I could have freedom...and if I had rules, I could “create.” I always wanted the time, space and money to express as I wished. While I was in design school, I couldn’t wait to graduate and “start!” Now, I fully appreciate those moments - creating in a protected, secure environment without time deadlines nor monetary goals.
As I look back, I see why some designers design a collection but choose to “never start” manufacturing. Perhaps for some, it’s good enough just to create and don’t have other expectations from the career of fashion. Maybe they take a job doing something else after. They want to simply, realize themselves, see their work manifest from a vision to reality and that is enough.