Status Reports & Other Ramblings / tikkun olam

Random Kindnesses

I want to anonymously share a few of the random acts of kindness that people have told me about in their entries for the camera giveaway, because it's doing a lot to restore my faith in humanity:

  • Yesterday I gave my lunch to a homeless man and chatted with him for a bit. I think it helped both of our moods.
  • I donated a winter coat and gloves to an outreach program that helps the homeless.
  • Bought coffee for the car behind me.
  • I paid for gas for someone whose card was declined at the gas station.
  • Put salt down at my neighbors walkway after I saw one of their kids slide around this morning.
  • I brought some snacks in to the nurses I work with last week and it seemed to bring some joy so I was happy.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me - and 

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Giveaway: Nikon D40

Not long after I went full-time with Wyrding Studios, I bought a Nikon D40, which I used to shoot thousands of photos over the following years. Last year, when it became obvious that I needed to upgrade to a camera with image stabilization because my hand tremors were so bad that at least half the photos I took were unusable, my ex-mother-in-law very generously gifted me her Nikon D5100.

The D40 is still a perfectly solid DSLR camera - if my hands hadn't gotten shaky after my brain surgery, I probably have used it until it died and was beyond repair. I love this camera, and somehow, I could never quite bring myself to put it up for sale. Instead, I've decided to pay it forward: I'm giving it away in a random drawing. 

The giveaway form is below. You can earn multiple entries by joining my mailing list, following me on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest, pinning shinies on Pinterest, telling your friends about this giveaway, and by committing random acts of kindness. The contest runs until midnight January 31st, 2016, and one winner will be drawn at random from all the entries received. I'll ship it for free in the US; if the winner is outside the US, I will ask that you cover the difference in shipping costs. 

If you win, I will ask that at some point in the future you find a way to pay it forward - you don't need to tell me about it, just keep an eye out for an opportunity to help someone and do what you can. Make the world a kinder place. We all need that.

Go forth and enter! Good luck!

(And thanks again, Randi - not having to re-take half the photos for every update is wonderful!)


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Here's a review of the D40. The winner of this giveaway will receive the D40 body and kit lens as seen in the photo, plus the battery charger and one battery. No memory card, but you can pick one up pretty cheaply almost anywhere if you don't already have one that will work. I don't have the original packaging or the manual, but the manual is available online and I'll pack it carefully with lots of bubblewrap. No strap, no case. The lens does have some minor scratches but they don't affect the image quality noticeably in my opinion. 

(Portrait photography by Brooklyn Logan/Mindful Mama.)

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hiddur mitzvah and getting out of your own way

Before I was an artist, I was a musician. I got my first guitar when I was 12, and started playing professionally when I was 14. I was very good.

Music was the first thing I lost to the brain tumor. In hindsight, I can tell you exactly when the tumor began encroaching on my brain; it was the year I stopped being able to learn new songs. The horrible thing about a brain tumor located in the part of your brain that affects short-term memory, though, is that you don't remember what you've forgotten. It was a long slow slide downhill from there, and by the time I found out about the tumor nearly a decade later, it had been years since I'd last picked up a guitar. 

About a year after the surgery, I started to get music back. My cantor asked me to join the synagogue choir, and I did, although the first few rehearsals felt like I was struggling to understand a language I knew I was supposed to be able to speak fluently. I kept singing anyway, determined to get that part of myself back.

I sang the first Rosh Hashanah service this year with a near-blinding migraine. Hardly anyone realized that, because I am also very good at hiding pain, and very good at performing. The thing about the High Holy Days, though, is that you're supposed to make yourself vulnerable, and be present. I was so far into the show must go on that I might as well have been chanting the telephone book, not the most emotional liturgy in Judaism.

The next morning I asked my cantor for advice on getting out of the show must go on and into a place of being emotionally present. She reminded me of the concept of hiddur mitzvot, the beautification of the mitzvot; that the choir was not there to perform but rather to bring beauty to the act of self-reflection and prayer. And then she told me, in more or less as many words, to get out of my own way and just sing.

And I went into the sanctuary, and took my place in the choir, and wrapped myself in my tallit, and I sang. 

When you are make art for a living, you spend a lot of time not actually making art, and when you live with chronic pain, you spend a lot of time trying to ignore your body. The challenge, for me, is to balance the mundane and the sacred; the show must go on, yes, and packages must be shipped and emails must be answered and supplies must be ordered, but when it comes time to sit down and pick up pliers and wire, I have to be willing to get out of my own way.

I am the most mindful of this when I'm working on something meant to be more than just ornamentation - intent pendants, kippot and mezuzot cases, memorial jewelry. But more and more, I'm noticing that my best work happens when I stop worrying about the details of design and technique and just let my hands be an instrument for the work that needs to be done. 

Hiddur mitzvot and tikkun olam feel like very similar obligations to me. The work of being an artist is in many ways inherently part of the work of healing the world; it is our job to get out of the way and bring beauty into the world with the work of our hands.

By now, I've made well over 10,000 pieces of jewelry. At my busiest, in 2007 and 2008, I was easily making 50 to 100 pieces every week. I'm never quite sure what to think of that; on one hand, it's an incredibly impressive body of work, but on the other hand, how many of those pieces were made as mindfully as I would like? Many, certainly, but not all.

The past few years have been a time of intense upheaval and transition and change in my life,  with my work being one of the few constants. I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want to focus on as I move forward with rebuilding both my life and my business, and the answer I kept finding is get out of your own way and do what you love. I've been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I really like the concept of mindfully picking up each of your possessions and asking yourself if it is something that brings you joy, and choosing to let go of anything that doesn't bring you joy anymore. 

One of the things I do every year after the holiday orders are all shipped is spend a week or so putting my studio to rights; by the end of December I'm usually working in a sea of chaos, and starting the year by organizing everything and rearranging the studio is a good mental reset. I plan to tackle that project a little differently this year: in addition to putting everything back where it goes, I'm going to sort through all of my supply cases and pick up the beads and stones and ask myself if they are still bringing me joy. I know I have a lot of beads that I've hung onto long after I stopped being excited about them, or because I used them in a design that was very popular five years ago and I might need them again if someone asks me to make something similar, or because they're perfectly good beads that I really should use even though I never seem to be able to make them into anything I like.

All of those beads are going to get dumped straight into a destash container that I'll parcel out into $5 and $10 grab bags (which I've done before, and they always sell out in a matter of hours) and I'm going to take the money from that and go bead shopping in New York for the first time in... two years, I think? with the intention of only buying things I truly love. I want to start the year not just with an organized studio, but with materials that bring me joy every time I pick them up. 

I still have my first guitar. It's unplayable now, with cracks in the wood and joins no longer glued together and a bowed neck. But it has a place of honor in my living room, because it will always bring me joy. I can't imagine getting rid of it.

But it's long past time to send the things that no longer bring me joy off to find new homes, so that I can get out of my own way and just sing. 

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love your neighbor

I learned about the attacks in Paris while I was at shul last night. I've lost track of how many times I've watched the entire congregation rise as one to recite the Mourner's Kaddish for people we will never know, all over the world. I know it won't stop any time soon.

The Mourner's Kaddish is not a prayer about death. It ends with a poignant plea for peace:

oseh shalom bimromav
hu ya'aseh shalom aleynu
v'al kol yisrael v'imru amen

may the one who makes peace in the heavens
grant peace to us on earth and to all people
and let us say amen

A few years ago, there was a string of hate crimes against refugees living in Concord. The community came together in solidarity, and bright yellow "love your neighbor" signs went up in windows all over the city to show that the violence of a few would not be allowed to overshadow the kindness of many. 

The signs have faded now. Many have been taken down. But we still need the reminder.

There is so much senseless violence and hatred in the world right now that I barely react anymore when I hear that there has been another shooting, another bombing, another earthquake or hurricane.  I am growing numb, desensitized. I think we all are. 

Part of the responsibility of being an artist is documenting history. Part of the responsibility of being an artist is bringing beauty into a world that desperately needs to be reminded that there is good left.

There are so many days when it feels like there's nothing I can do. I know I'm not the only person who feels helpless. But I believe in art, and beauty, and kindness, and so this is my promise: every time the world weeps or is torn apart by violence, I will try to counter it the despair and rage with something beautiful or kind. 

I recorded this a few nights ago, and hesitated to post a link anywhere because it seemed like too small a thing to matter. (And some other day, I need to talk again about #dontselfreject and not being confident about some of the art that I make.) But I did anyway, and it turned out that a friend had indeed needed to hear that song at that particular moment. 

The small things matter. 

If you feel helpless, join me. Take a photograph of a sunset. Buy a few extra cans of food and drop them in the donation box on the way out of the grocery store. Sing to your children. Write a poem. Put a sign in your window. Post kitten photos on Twitter. Find something beautiful to share on Facebook. Smile at a stranger. Light a candle. Bake bread. Knit a scarf. Donate blood. Remember the name of someone who died. Say "I love you" to someone.

Because the small things matter. Like a faded sign in a window, they remind us that the violence of a few can not overshadow the kindness and beauty that is in the world.



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ethics in jewelry marketing

For the past few weeks I've been reading up on leveraging Instagram as a marketing strategy. In the process of noting what hashtags are being used by jewelry artists with large followers, I keep spotting variants of one word over and over and over again: "gypsy."
Every time I see it, I wonder: do the etsy sellers using it so liberally to describe their products have any idea what it actually means? Do they care that they're hurting people?  Or is the lure of marketing to the enormous demographic of consumers who've co-opted a racial slur to describe a fashion aesthetic and/or lifestyle simply too tempting to resist? 
I took the word out of my vocabulary as soon I learned it was a slur, but I have to admit there are times when I post something to Instagram and wonder how much traffic I could drive to my products if I was willing to use those hashtags. At the end of the day, though, I have to live with myself: my religion requires me to be mindful of  my actions and my speech and to work to heal the world. Intentionally marketing my work to a demographic that insists on perpetuating the use of hate speech is not something I can do, no matter how much it might increase my sales figures. There are far more important things than money, and this is one of them. 
(Please do NOT come into the comments to argue about how it's okay for you and everyone else to use the word gypsy because it's come to mean free-spirited. Yes, language shifts over time, but as long as there are people who find it hurtful, it's not welcome around me. If you're actually Romani and you've intentionally chosen to personally reclaim the word, this queer gimpy feminist has your back; everybody else is cordially invited to go exercise their freedom of speech somewhere else.)
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