Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Ways We Get What We Need

Woke up this morning, as I have every day for a while now, with a dream fragment about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in my mind. I never can remember what the dream is about, just that much. Today I asked myself: if this dream was a form of guidance what does it say I need? What did the Loma Prieta earthquake provide for me? What did I learn from it? What do I need now?

Interestingly enough, I did not dwell on how frightening or bad that was. I was married then and my ex-husband's business literally slid down a hill, his partner's wife insisted on leaving town the very next day, and a government contract which had involved almost a year of work was lost and never paid. The foundation of our house cracked and crumbled and we lived in the only liveable room with all our belongings piled up around us for years after that before we got other jobs and earned enough money (in addition to the minimal FEMA relief we qualified for) to rebuild and start again.

But I don't remember that when I wake up in the morning with these dreams. I think of the good things that eventually came of it instead.

So today when I asked "what came of it?" my first response was that I learned the value of hanging in and believing we'll get what we need, step by step over the long haul. As I said before, rebuilding took years! There was no overnight success on this path. And even when it looked bleakest and I had to give up on something I really wanted in order to get a regular job to help pay my way, I received skills and experiences so valuable Paul and I are actually depending on those things today.

Back then I was attempting to create a career as a fine artist/craftsperson. I made quilts out of very precisely cut tiny squares and triangles of decorated paper that I pasted to a backing board, framed and hung on the wall. This came out of my previous employment as a freelance paste-up artist, a career that had just become obsolete.

Back in the horse and buggy days, before Macintosh, graphic arts were done by hand. Imagine that! We ordered type set in large sheets from a typographer, printed photographs in a dark room, ran the sheets of type and photos through a waxing machine to get the backs sticky, and very carefully cut them out after lining everything up precisely with a T-square on a drawing table. The bits and pieces were then placed into exact position on a backing board to create ads, posters, magazine pages, whatever we were working on, and burnished into place with a glass roller. Then those pages were photographically transferred to printing plates of one kind or another and printed. The whole process from original concept to end result took weeks and certain effects we don't think twice about doing now were rarely if ever attempted at all. It required great skill and patience and I loved the meditative quality of it but in just a few short years after the Mac came on the scene that whole profession was gone.

I remember going to the brand new Computer Museum in Boston in 1984. My graphic design buddies and I came up to the "Wave of the Future" exhibit featuring the first tiny Mac and laughed! Yeah, like that was going to be how we did graphic design for now on. Tell us another one, ha, ha.

Less than a year later John and I moved to Santa Cruz and with Silicon Valley just a short distance away the graphic arts revolution wasn't just a pipe dream, it was already here! I couldn't face the idea of spending thousands of dollars for a computer and new software and spending months of my time to learn to do what I did already, so I was put out of work overnight and decided to pursue my deeper dream of doing my own thing as an artist, following wherever that might lead.

Just before the Loma Prieta earthquake hit I had hit a perceived limit on the art, too. I had a single quilt design that was a great success—a small blue and pink silly one with a heart in the center and tiny teddy bears in the corners—but, on my nonexistent budget, I couldn't figure out how to pay someone to reproduce them for me and I was going out of my mind doing it myself. I didn't go into the arts to work on an assembly line—boring!—and I didn't have enough of a profit margin to make it worthwhile. Looking back on it now I can see that had I gotten help to figure that piece out I could have made several of my products into a great success...but I didn't know then what I know now. That had to come as a result of our entire way of life crashing to a halt and waking up to the fact that I had to do something different.

Artisans Gallery, where I sold my work, lay in ruins after the quake, as were all the framed quilts I had been getting ready for a show. Shards of broken glass and twisted frames gouged holes into some of my favorite pieces. I salvaged what I could and kept selling what I had as long as I could but with our finances in shambles it just didn't make sense. So I mourned my losses, gathered up my courage and looked for a job doing disaster relief. The Downtown Association wanted a graphic designer. All the downtown businesses were operating out of tents and they needed someone to help create a paper newsletter and other old-fashioned devices to keep the flood of information merchants needed to carry on flowing. Apple had just donated a couple of brand new Macintosh computers to the cause and the staff they had didn't know how to turn them on or what to do with them once they did.

The interviewer said to me "If you can show us how to do the things we need these machines to do the job is yours." I thought I was doomed but I took a deep breath and asked what they needed to know. "Cut and Paste"! Unbelievably, a friend had only just shown me how to do that a couple of weeks before. It was the only thing I knew how to do. But I got the job—I knew more than they did—and got paid to teach myself everything else I needed to know.

Today I do all the ads Paul and I need, design and maintain our websites and helped him to start doing his own. Lately we've been using our computer skills to create products to sell using our photography and artwork. I even put an old quilt design on the gift shop we're creating through Cafepress and it was the first design we sold! (And the next and most popular design we've sold so far features a really simple idea with a heart in the middle.) So, I've come full circle on this. I now know several ways to do what I didn't know back then and the money from at least that one design is coming in faster than I would have expected.

So back to the original question: what do we need? What did that dream wake me up to tell? Well, it's very easy to get discouraged when the phone isn't ringing off the hook. It's hard to remember that we always get what we need in the time it takes and that sometimes what seems like a terrible delay actually allows this to happen. It gives us time to learn something new, for example. To expand our concept of who we are and what we can do. Time for the market to catch up to our innovations or time to develop new concepts and get them done.

I wouldn't be doing any of the things we're doing now—the spiritual practice, the perfume business, our cards and T-shirts, prints and what-have-you at Cafepress—without all the experiences that have come since that earthquake in 1989. I wouldn't have known how or even imagined it. You know the advice New Age people like to give—visualize what you want in every detail, let the dream go and allow what you dream to manifest for you? Ummm. What about those dreams that are way bigger than you can dream of? What about horrible occurrences that give you exactly the experiences you need to change and grow in ways you wouldn't be able to visualize now?

Sometimes it is as simple as "dream it, be it." But you also need to allow the time it takes to grow.

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