Status Reports & Other Ramblings / tikkun olam


why I don’t do Black Friday

This is a repost of a blog post from 2014. I don’t regret my decision for an instant. It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made for my business, and I continue to stand by it: Black Friday just doesn't happen at Wyrding Studios.

BUT! The anniversary bash does happen every year, the first week in November. Except I'm going to be in Wisconsin for a big chunk of the first week in November (at a music retreat/conference that I am super excited to be attending) so this year we're going to do it a week early, starting on October 25th and running through the 31st. I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing this year, but I'll figure it out as I go along. It'll be awesome.

(WS is turning 12 this year, y'all. TWELVE. I almost have a teenager.)

But anyway, here's my Black Friday manifesto: 

I have decided that Wyrding Studios will not actively be participating in Black Friday this year. Instead, for the rest of the year, I will be focusing on offering a wider range of affordable items in the store, with occasional flash sales, coupon codes, and special offers via social media.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this over the past few weeks, and this is not a decision I’ve made lightly. The short explanation is that Black Friday has become something that conflicts strongly with my personal values, as well negatively affecting my creativity and putting undue stress on my physical and mental health.

The longer explanation is significantly more complex.

Like most retail business owners, I usually see a substantial increase in orders between October and December. (The origin of the phrase Black Friday is sometimes attributed to it being the time of year when retail businesses tip over from running in the red to making a profit.) However, over the past decade, I’ve watched Black Friday creep earlier and earlier every year, put more and more strain on retail workers and business owners, and become more and more violent and mindless.

As a one-woman business, I have a great deal of flexibility about when and how much I work; I have to maintain a consistent level of inventory and keep up with website orders, subscriptions, commissions, and wholesale orders… but when I do that work is mostly up to me. If I want to start working at 2am on a holiday I don’t celebrate, it’s my choice to do so and no one else is significantly impacted by my actions.

But if I continue to participate in Black Friday, I’m tacitly involving myself in something that I’m finding more and more at odds with my personal ethics every year. As many of you know, 2014 has been a very difficult year for me. It has also been profoundly transformative. Some of you have probably heard me talk about my belief that tikkun olam - literally, “heal the world” - is part of the responsibility of being an artist. Part of that work is making the conscious decision to live as mindfully and compassionately as I can.

As Black Friday loomed every closer on my calendar, I found myself more and more uncomfortable with both the prospect of trying to take on the additional workload and the implications of continuing to participate in something that becomes more materialistic, violent, and disruptive every year. When I decided yesterday that I needed to opt out of it, it felt like a giant weight had dropped off my shoulders. For the first time in entirely too long, I truly looked forward to going into the studio today.

That alone tells me I’m making the right choice for myself. Whether or not it will be the right choice as a business owner remains to be seen, but I think it’s the only choice I can make in good conscience.

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be the resistance you want to see in the world

I have been... struggling this month. Physically, mentally, emotionally: winter is a hard time for me, and the state of the world isn't helping.

So I'm making art, because it's what I can do. I'm trying to be a good parent, even when I'm exhausted and don't know how to explain any of what's going on. I'm bearing witness to as much as I can, and taking care of myself when I can't bear witness any longer, and trying to hold space for the people I love to process what they're feeling. I'm feeding people, and singing at the top of my lungs, and trying to build bridges. 

I came up with a new wirework design idea yesterday, and this morning a bunch of things collided in my head, and after a quick run to the bead store, this happened: 

If you need me, I'll just be over here at the workbench...

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Safe, part two

Okay. Now that we've established that I'm a fan of symbols and ornaments as visible/tangible reminders of the things we need to be doing, let's talk about the other piece of this.

People of color are pointing out that the safety pin thing looks an awful lot like armchair activism meant to make white people feel better without actually doing anything. And I totally agree. If all you're doing is pinning a bit of metal onto yourself so you can tell yourself that you're doing SOMETHING, you are not being an activist and you are not being an ally, and you need to stop that right now and go find something actually useful to do.

(There's going to be links to resources at the end of the post, and I invite everyone but especially my fellow white cis people to help me find more of those.)

You don't get to call yourself an ally; you have to earn it by BEING an ally and constantly working to be a better one, which includes listening when someone tells you you've messed up and then taking steps to do better in the future. You also don't get to call yourself an activist unless you're actually doing the work. 

There is a learning curve on this stuff. There are also a lot of different ways to do the work, and everybody has to figure out what they can do. Many of us are marginalized in some ways while being privileged in others; I'm a disabled queer Jewish woman, yes, but I'm also a white middle-class cisgender American citizen with no accent[1] and mostly invisible disabilities, and if I take off my Star of David and don't talk about religion it's not obvious that I'm Jewish. 

If you're a person with privilege wearing a safety pin as a symbol of your commitment to healing the world, I'm going to challenge you to the same thing I'm challenging myself to do in wearing it: step up your game and get out of your comfort zone. Do more. If you're already out there working to make things better, take on one more thing. If you've largely lived inside a bubble of privilege and this is the first time you're consciously making the choice to get involved in social justice, read through the posts I'm going to share in just a minute, make sure you understand what you're promising to do, and then pick at least two OTHER things to start doing in the meantime.

But don't stop there. Do as much good as you can, in as many ways as you can, every time that you can. 

Here are some suggestions for immediate things to work on if you're wearing a safety pin: start practicing what you can say and do, so you don't freeze up in the moment. If you aren't familiar with the concepts of non-violent communication and conflict resolution, I encourage you to go read up on them. (If anybody has good resources for that, toss them into the comments, please.) I strongly believe in using peaceful de-escalation and diversion whenever you can.  

Consider other ways you can be visible about your commitment to social justice. Friends have pointed out that this is a very easy symbol for hate groups[2] to co-opt; what can you do to make it more obvious that you are wearing it in good faith? For me, so far that means wearing it alongside my #IllGoWithYou button and Jewish star and rainbow ribbons; I'm still thinking about what else I can do. Pin it onto a Black Lives Matter t-shirt or wear it next to a peace sign or hamsa. (Don't fall into cultural appropriation in the process, though, please, and for the love of all that is holy please don't try to reclaim the swastika. I know it was originally a symbol of peace, and I am normally ALL about reclamation as a form of power, but that one is too far gone.)

Don't back away from hard conversations, and don't ignore microaggressions. Call on your family and friends to join you in taking action. If you're a parent, talk to your child about how what they should do if you're called upon to help someone. Decide if there are times or places where you can't wear one, and remember that being able to stop being visible is a huge form of privilege. 

Symbols have power. Symbols are important. But they don't do the work. You do.

Here's a very incomplete list of things that I think you should read if you're going to be wearing a safety pin as a symbol. I'll keep adding to it, and I invite you to share links in the comments.

The Diffetence Between Real Solidarity & Ally Theatre 

Responding to Everyday Bigotry (very comprehensive document from the Southern Poverty Law Center)

This list of things white friends have done to make this person feel safer (Twitter thread; if the link doesn't work I can screenshot or storify or something) 

Your Safety Pin Is Not Enough (article on Medium by a POC)

So You Want To Wear A Safety Pin (extremely practical suggestions written by a WOC)

What To Do If You See Islamophobic Harassment (wonderful comic by a French Middle Eastern woman; the tactics are useful for just about any sort of situation where someone is being harassed)

suggestions for a way white middle-aged women can use their privilege as a diversion  (Facebook post by my friend Kate, a fellow disabled female artist)

11 Ways To Be A Trans* Ally (collection of 101-level tips from trans* people)

The Compassionate Listening Project (website of a non-profit organization working to build peace through understanding)

My laptop battery is about to die and my child just dumped water onto the trackpad which is making it act funny, and my headache is reaching the point where I'm about to lose coherent language entirely, so I'm going to stop for now. I know this is incomplete. I know you may disagree with some or all of what I've said, and I want you to know that I am listening. I'm going to go put on my own oxygen mask right now; I'll be back.

Thank you for joining me in thinking about difficult things. I hope you'll also join me in doing whatever we can to heal the world. It is not incumbent upon us to finish the work, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it.

[1] When I get angry my Southern accent suddenly goes from juuuuuust barely there to very obvious and I start blessing people's hearts left and right, but that really does not count.

[2] And by "hate groups" I mean actual white supremacy groups like the KKK. 

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safe, part one

Unless you've been living under a rock the past few days[1] you've probably noticed  that safety pins are making a comeback in a way we haven't seen since the 80s, and that people have Very Strong Opinions on the matter.

The basic idea is that by wearing a safety pin on your shirt or jacket or bag or whatever, you're stating your commitment to being an ally to anyone who needs one.

I like this idea a lot. As a Jew, I have a sacred obligation to participate in tikkun olam - literally, "heal the world." Tikkun olam means working for justice. It means helping people, freely and without ulterior motive. It means loving my neighbor. It means creating peace between all the people of the world. It means making the world whole.

I also completely understand why people are criticizing it. (Edited: I'm now hearing two main themes of criticism, and I'm going to explore both of them. The only reason I'm doing them in this particular order is that I've had longer to think about the first one, and I'm going to break it out into two posts because this first one is long enough already. Here's part two.) This morning I saw someone who finds the safety pins hurtful and divisive say that they wanted a symbol that represented everyone working together in unity. 

Safety pins are literally a tool for holding things together. That's what they do. That's their only function. They hold things together.

We are living in a world torn apart. We are struggling. All of us. We are afraid and angry, for countless reasons. We are exhausted and we keep shouting louder and louder because it feels like no one is listening, and it's tearing us apart.

We need something to hold us together. To make us whole.

And here is a symbol. A very utilitarian tool, something we all have floating around the house in our junk drawers or sewing kits. Something that exists solely to hold things together.

That's why I'm wearing one. It's not about us versus them. It's not about who you voted for, or who won the election, or where you live or who you love. It's about trying to hold the world together. It's about love for your fellow human.

By wearing it, I promise you this: I will be a safe space for you. I will speak up for you. I will listen to you. I will stand with you. Even if we disagree. Even if we voted for different people. Even if we don't understand each other. I will help you build a bridge.

I belive in symbolism. I believe in talismans. I don't believe that they're magic cures - you have to do the work yourself. But anything that gives you strength by its presence? That is magic. 

Every piece of jewelry I wear is a talisman. A reminder of something that I need to carry with me. I've chosen them, one by one, over the years; there are some that I never take off, and there are some that I bring out when I need a reminder of something in particular. Let me tell you about a couple of them. 

My Star of David pendant isn't what makes me a Jew - that's between me and G-d. But wearing it reminds me of my obligations, and of all the people who wore the symbol before I did, generation to generation, including all the ones who didn't survive wearing it. It's a reminder. 

The bracelet I wear didn't cure my PTSD from being a rape survivor. But its presence reminds me of how much work I've done, how much I've healed. Of my capacity to keep healing, because now I can tolerate having something touch my wrist when for a decade I couldn't even wear a watch without my breath going ragged. It gives me hope.

The vial of tiny wrenches and glitter called your hatred, like a sleeping beast that I bought from Elise Matthesen didn't get rid of my brain tumor - the neurosurgeons did that. But wearing it helped remind me that I needed to survive, and it helped me find the courage to walk into the hospital and sign the consent forms and put my life into the surgeon's hands so they could cut the sleeping beast out of my body. 

Wearing a safety pin isn't magic. It's not going to fix the problems of the world just by being on your shirt. But it can remind you to build a bridge. To reach out your hand to someone who needs it. To be the change you want to see in the world. To heal the world.

We are a torn world. I'm for anything that can help us hold it together.

And because part of my work as an artist is to make talismans, I'm going to make safety pin jewelry. If you choose to wear this symbol, I hope you will join me in committing to work for peace and understanding. I hope you'll wear it mindfully, as a reminder that you need to walk the walk if you're going to talk the talk. I hope you'll wear it peacefully, and with the intent of healing the world.

Love is a radical act, and it's hard and scary sometimes. Go forth and love bravely. We need each other more than ever right now.  

Let's heal the world together. All of us.

Please also read part two.

[1] Budge over friend, I'm gonna join you under this rock just as soon as I'm done packing up orders.

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be kind, be brave

The past few days have been hard and exhausting. I have been making art, and singing, and trying to build bridges where I can. 

I believe that it is the sacred duty of artists to both stand witness to history and to work to heal the world. Tikkun olam, hiddur mitzvot - I've talked about both before. They are as integral to my work as the stones and wire, or my hands. As a Jew, I have an obligation to repair the world; as an artist, I have a responsibility to bring beauty into it at the same time. 

I am tired. I am heart-sore for our divided country, for the anger and fear everywhere I turn. I have no answers. But I have my work, and I have my music, and friends to love fiercely, and so I keep moving. Keep creating even when my hands are unsteady. Keep singing, even when my voice cracks and breaks. I tell myself that there is great beauty even in broken things, that the cracks are how the light gets in.

Be kind.

Be brave.

I leave you with a photo I took of the moon at 5:30 today, rising through the trees in the New England winter darkness. There are still a few leaves left on the branches, holding on somehow, and they are beautiful.

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