On Speaking My Mind – An Important Business and Personal Lesson

I’ve had blog posts scheduled that I’ve ignored. I’ve started blogs and let them fall to the wayside. Let’s be real, my enjoyment in writing this blog has dwindled. It has a lot to do with making time for it. Also, I wonder about my content. Is it even interesting?

My life hasn’t really been what anyone would call exciting these past few years. I’ve had some great experiences and opportunities. I have a dazzling niece who takes up a ton of my love and time. I’ve gotten to know some interesting dogs and reconnected with friends. I’ve even lost some friends. This past week alone, I blocked and removed friends from Facebook; I also removed them from my address books in my email, phone, and paper address book.  (I’m not sharing this for validation or even as a way to celebrate losing friends. Every loss has been painful. No, it’s a way to show that sometimes in order to clear things up and gain clarity, you have to remove it all.)

Four years ago at this time, I had moved in with family to save money and was an intern at Etsy’s headquarters in Brooklyn. I was eying flights to Japan with a pit stop in Turkey. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was full of doubt and I went with my desire and heart and leapt. 2012 was a year of a lot of heartache, doubt, silence, self, and love.

Four years later, I find myself in a situation almost similar. The only difference is that I don’t have savings to use to travel for an extended period of time. I do have my sense of adventure though. When I say, that 2016 and 2012 are similar, I’m comparing the idea of doubt in my life.

Doubt is a funny little feeling. It can be paralyzing, yet inspiring. Whenever I feel him come along, I try to embrace him and share with him the surprises that are in store. Many times, that doesn’t do much. In fact, he decides that I’m not listening, throws a tantrum and sends me a nice big dose of anxiety. I’d rather deal with doubt without his friend anxiety, but you know, anxiety does make a big fuss.

Last week, I shared a post on Facebook. To many it was harsh and rude and lacking compassion. It garnered a handful of comments that were rude and mean. I get it, what you put out comes back to you. However, it was something that spun completely out of control for no real reason. It was an opinion. A simple opinion and it ended up being an scrape with puss oozing in globs. It required a ton of damage control that I don’t think I provided very well and eventually resulted in me changing the settings so that only I can see the post, blocking several individuals who had left the most offensive comments and then the removal of the person who not only [I felt] overreacted to my post, but brought all of her friends who felt the need to troll my page. I also made all of my accounts private. Which didn’t do much because after blocking one particular troll, I received an email through my stationery website, from that person, that was just as rude as his previous comments on facebook. After writing something quickly in response, I opted to delete my message, thereby not responding and sharing my email address with them. I chose to let it be.

Since that day, I have been relatively quiet. I have chosen to share a small amount of things. I am “liking” more than posting. I’ve stopped almost (a few slip out here and there) all of my political commentary. I did email one person who had left a comment, who is a friend of mine, explaining my post and apologizing to her if I had offended her. She and I had a pretty good exchange that left me feeling better about the situation over all.

Through this all, I have debated with myself about my reasoning. Is it because I was burned? Am I embarrassed? Does this even matter? Why am I doubting myself? My voice? Does this incident require me to dim myself? What am I really trying to prove? How will this effect me down the road? Do I need to change things?

In the end, I’m sure it does not and yet I am doubtful in my voice, thoughts, and whether they should be shared. My thoughts have always been a bit off. They are definitely not in favor of most people’s views and I’ve always been okay with that. But do I really want to be on the receiving end of vitriol because people disagree?

Nothing that I said will matter on the particular issue I wrote about. I felt the way I felt. I shared what I felt. Rude comments did not change that and will not change those feelings. I’m entitled to those feelings. But did I have to share them? Why did I feel so comfortable sharing those feelings in the first place?

We live in a culture now where everyone speaks their mind without much thought. We speak so easily, even if it hurts someone else. We have Presidential candidates who are considered different because they are spewing their thoughts without much mind. We are spreading these feelings and thanks to technology, the ease in which to spread them are vast and quick.

I have for a few weeks been considering giving up my smart phone for a flip phone instead. (2007 is calling me big time!) I’ve seriously considered doing away with credit card payments as a market option – cash only, please! I deleted the facebook app from my phone to avoid spending more time on this tool that is more of a time suck than anything else. I’m also toying with the idea of a complete deactivation from facebook.  In other words, I’ve been seeking ways to get back to my “Walden.”

Maybe that is why my lesson last week was so important. It reminds me glaringly that the way I’ve been using social media, facebook in particular, is not aligned with the life I want to lead. My life is hardly rainbows and pots of gold and to use social media to project that would be unfair and a lie and not aligned with my values, but maybe, just maybe, it is okay to revert?

I base a lot on values. On my values, for sure, and to a degree, on your values. My business and business ideas are based on my values. This will never change. I care about the environment. I care about women right to choose. I care about your freedom and mine. I care about the people of the world, and increasingly on the animals in the natural world. I care about our politics and the future of our political system. I care about it all. And I’m working on it all (some more passionately than others), including myself. I cannot entirely hide and I will need my thick skin as I move forward with a project that will definitely be attacked, but maybe this whole situation was a necessary bruise to get me prepared for things that I need to care more and be more brave about? I’m sure it is, in fact.

I am hardly perfect. I doubt I ever will be. I will always apologize when I’m in the wrong. I will always attempt to listen to you and make better choices and hear your pain and needs and wants. I will also always have my opinions. I may choose to not share them. Maybe you will, too?  Maybe you and I will become comfortable with my silence?

 

 

A Social Experiment + The 2013 Etsy NY Holiday Handmade Cavalcade Goodie Bag

Over two months ago now, as I got ready for the 2013 Etsy NY Holiday Handmade Cavalcade, a request came from our team asking for donations for the goodie bags being given out to the first 100 shoppers between the two days of the event. Being my first Cavalcade, I was reluctant. The cost of doing two-days was adding up and it was only going to get more costly day of.  Donating to the goodie bag, seemed like just another expense. After a third request, however, I decided to join in and I’m glad I did.

I had no idea the amount of fans (and shoppers) who line up in advance and wait, no matter what the weather (snow last year!), to get their hands on these bags.  As was explained to me, those who get a goodie bag, get home and eagerly and slowly go through each piece inside looking at all the freebies and discounts offered.

My donation ended up being a bit of work (I don’t have a single picture of my donation!), which probably stopped 48 gift bag lovers from participating in my giveaway, but I’m glad I donated what I did.  My freebie piece included a small notebook paper size bag that included my business card, a discount card, and a postcard that read “Holiday Sugar” and had the word “sugar” glittered in red, one $.33 stamp (which at the time was the cost to mail a postcard), and a note that said the following:

“Hello there Handmade Shopper!

Thank you so much for attending this year’s Etsy NY Holiday Handmade Cavalcade! This is my first Cavalcade and I feel really fortunate to find myself amongst these incredibly talented artists and makers, but more to find my little bag of goodness in your hands.

Enclosed is a holiday card that I glittered by hand one cold night in November.  It is a postcard, which is why somewhere floating in this bag along with my business card and a discount coupon (expires February 1, 2014!!) is a $.33 cent stamp.  All you need to do is write a message either on front, or on the back of the card, address it and mail it off.  I figured if I give you the stamp, you might actually mail the card, even if you don’t mail out Holiday cards normally.

So here’s the challenge I’m presenting to you. Yes there’s a challenge!

I want to see how many of the 50 cards floating out there are actually mailed.  I’m asking that you go one step further and email me and let me know when you mailed it and where you mailed it to…was it domestic, in NYC, outside NYC, abroad-where?  You do not need to provide names or anything else.  Again, I just would love to track how far these cards go and find out how many actually used the stamp and found a mailbox or post office.

As for me…well, I’m just Sara, a woman who loves paper (I studied Japanese paper making this time last year), writing, and communicating with the people I love.  I don’t think we do enough real connecting any more. I also don’t think we know how to properly express ourselves.  It makes me sad. I’m trying to fix it. I figured I could use this little goodie as a social experiment and a way to get you writing this Holiday season.  Please let me know how it goes!

Yours in love & cheer!

Sara/S2″

I know that’s a lot, but that’s me. A rambling lover at heart and it’s better to be honestly me than try to be anything else.

My rambling way made some kind of a connection because I had two shoppers email me and let me know they received the postcard and mailed them off:

Hi Sara,
Just mailed your cute postcard yesterday to my sister in Iowa via my local post office in Jackson Heights, NY.  I can’t remember the last time I actually sent my sister anything by mail (I haven’t mailed Christmas cards in years).  I am sure she will be surprised!
Thanks for the lovely idea.
All the best,
R

AND

Hi Sara,  

I am one of the recipients of your goodies in the NY holiday cavalcade market in Brooklyn. I was travelling from overseas last week when I came across the market and the goodie bag. Your card and stamp prompted me to write to a new friend I had made in DC.   I

am with you in thinking that we don’t express ourselves as well or as often these days as people used to, and as a great fan of snail mail I think this is a pity. I am not sure how long mail normally takes in the States but I’m hoping that the stamp was enough to get the card from New York to DC – I haven’t yet heard from him saying he received it (sent 4 days ago). Fingers crossed! 

Thank you for your card and for reigniting my love of snail mail. I hope you hear from many others confirming that your cards were circulated around the country.   

A

Those are real, unaltered, emails from people, whose full names I removed, who went along with my challenge. Both of these messages made my day when I received them.  Sure only 1% of the people who received the postcard contacted me to let me know they mailed it, but that’s still 1% or two people who made the effort and were grateful for the opportunity to write a message to a loved one and express their sentiment.

Naturally, I wish that more people had written in and contacted me, but I consider this a success. Knowing that two people, took advantage of an S2 design and sent out love is enough to remind me why I am doing what I’m doing and why I’m going all for broke doing it. If I can help more people feel this way, and reach out to loved ones with intentional communication, well then, that’s my legacy and its worth all costs, rambles and all.

On days like today, where I’m sitting thinking about how I quit my job and am really trying to make a go doing the things I love while my bank account dwindles, I read these messages and remember, this may be my fifth year, and I may be taking a risk, but the world needs some “holiday sugar.”

Speaking of holiday sugar…Friday, tomorrow, is Valentine’s Day. I wish you all a day full of intentional communication, or missives of love.  Happy Valentine’s Day. Happy Holiday Sugar!  Pick up a pen and get to writing! Please?

An Update…With More to Come

I’ve been lagging in my blogging. It sucks. It’s unfair. Not only is it unfair to you, my little tribe of awesome readers, but to me. I haven’t been writing period. Yes, I’ve written a few cards to people here and there, but I haven’t really been writing. I’m not even attempting to apologize here. I’m just explaining that while I started out writing with a vengeance, I stopped with a vengeance as well. However, things have a way of changing…

Today, I posted my first non-personal blog in a long time. Since last year, actually. I’ve been meaning (and wanting) to write more for blogs about sustainability and environmental concerns and just haven’t had the time. Or maybe the motivation. Or maybe just both. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing these posts, they require time and I just haven’t had time. I feel like I haven’t had time to sleep, which is odd, but adding one more thing to the list of things to do, just wasn’t fun.

It also doesn’t help that I’ve moved to New Jersey, am living with a friend, don’t have a car yet, and just started a job. I’m a month into the gig and it’s moving. It is nice to be in the working world again and to have money, but honestly, all I can think about is Japan, stationery projects, a guy, and traveling more. At the same time, I am longingly looking at every West Elm catalog that comes contemplating how I am going to decorate (on a budget and with second hand and upcycled items). I’m excited by the prospect of having a corner with a work table that is all stationery.  And yet, I still wonder, is this it? It’s funny how life does that to you, isn’t it? But I know I’m on the right path…that I’m where I am supposed to be right now. The signs keep telling me so. So I’ve just got to have a bit of patience and continued faith. Easier said than done with your Sara “impatient” Stroman, but I’ll survive. I am grateful for every day that goes by and for all the opportunities that keep presenting themselves.

And so where does that leave me, well it leaves me wandering in this life that’s mine, but it also means that I am living and active and breathing. It means that while I haven’t been sharing as of late, I am enjoying life.

I’ll be posting a bit more regularly, especially as S2 Stationery and Design takes shape and picks up. I’ve gotten quite a few orders lately and have been busy, busy, busy with all exciting stuff! I’ve designed a graduate school graduation announcement, a stationery set for a teen, I did my first foiled invitation, worked with a couple on a Save the Date announcement, am designing a 21st birthday card for a friend’s daughter, am working on a birth announcement, and have two new ideas for cards in the pipeline to be released this summer, as well as a membership service, and a photography collection. I started painting with water colors and I’m taking a class on making pop-up cards. More on all of this soon!

Two nights ago, I opened my box of goodies from Japan. I hadn’t seen that stuff since I mailed it to myself at my aunt’s house my last day in Echizen. It made me nostalgic and happy and sad at the same time.  Happy because I did THAT- I went away, I lived abroad briefly, I picked up some Japanese, I was alone- I experienced it, I lived it after planning it and wanting it so badly. Nostalgic because that time was one of the hardest and trying times (I compare it to just after my Dad passed away four years ago), and I found joy and happiness in every moment. Sad because I can never go back to that same point. But I’m so happy that I’m here, where I am, hiding out in New Jersey.

While I was in Echizen, the woman I stayed with told me that she didn’t like that I said, “I understand now that this is where I am supposed to be.” I’ve since realized that she and I do not have the same life philosophy, hence our not getting along in the end, but means exactly what it says, I’ve no doubt that I am where I am supposed to be, growing pains and all. I’ve just got to be patient. Patient. Patient. After all, that is my word for the year.

And so with that, today, I posted an article about the Hello Etsy Conference I attended last month at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY on the Etsy NY Team Blog. It was mind blowing in a good way. As I promised in that blog, I will write more about it here on this blog. It has a lot to do with what I learned while in Japan and I think that’s worth sharing, even if you’re only interested in posts about stationery.

Before signing off, I want to share an article, “Woody Allen, Louis C.K., And The Power Of The Handwritten Note,” I read earlier today that keeps me smiling. It’s about writing and the power of a written note between two well known and comedic artists, Woody Allen + Louis C.K.  As I get ready to mail out thank you cards to friends in Japan, America, Africa, and America, I’m excited to know that Woody Allen and Louis C.K. are fellow members of the writers club.  Are you? If not, I hope you join, soon! (More on that to come!)

I HATE Automated Telephone Services

I’m going to do my very best to not be so negative in this post, but I can not make any promises. Here goes.

Yesterday morning I had to contact my bank, Bank of America, regarding a check that cleared.  It took me about 10 minutes to get through to a live customer service agent and that was after, repeatedly yelling at the automated voice for “Customer Service.”

Now, maybe I shouldn’t have yelled at the robotic voice command automated service voice, but the fact remains that if I call and want to speak to a real live person, I should be able to without jumping through hoops, being asked to put my social security number, bank account number, date of birth, mother’s madin name, telephone access code, or any other detail they think is important. They should just patch me through to an actual person who I will gladly verify my information to and proceed with the phone call. Instead, I got, “I’m sorry, but your telephone access code is incorrect, please input your telephone access code, now.” WRONG answer!

After about eight minutes, I got through to someone, but it was not without repeatedly saying, “Customer Service” until the robotic voice finally got that I wasn’t putting in any information. Now, maybe it was wrong of me to do this, maybe it would have been easier if I just hung on to my patience and grabbed my purse and check book and put in my account information, but I didn’t and I don’t feel bad.

See, this is where big companies fail. They fail when it comes to good, real customer service. If a customer calls, they should not have to jump through hoops to talk to someone about whatever the service/product being offered. When I call my bank, I am calling because something has happened, something of extreme importance and I want to talk to someone immediately. I already know what my account information is because I logged in online, I don’t need it reiterated on the phone before being able to discuss the matter with a person.

I have often heard people on the internet discuss methods of communication. They talk about listing how you want to be contacted clearly so that you don’t end up overwhelmed by phone or email. I agree with them to a degree. Yes, you want to make sure that you are carving out time to get work done and not spending hours responding to emails and phone calls, but you also need to make sure that you are available to your customers and potential customers. You can choose when to return a call, or to take one immediately, but running a business the way many big businesses do is how you lose a customer. I’ve made this mistake before; I’ve not returned phone calls, or have forgotten about phone calls to make and guess what? I’ve lost those sales. Not to mention, I’ve potentially lost those customers for ever and ever. Which sucks and with each failed or forgotten phone call, I’ve made a note to make more notes and respond quickly, not to create high expectations, but to deliver better service. At the end of the day, when a customer, or even myself, forks over any amount of money (unless it’s cheap disposable clothing at H&M or Zara), I want to know that I’m getting the best experience and service possible. While I don’t expect immediate service, I do expect reasonable and high quality service and that includes my bank that charges for every little service, pays on goods when they shouldn’t and then charges you for that service, and doesn’t allow you to speak with a customer service representative without sacrificing your newborn child and your teeth.

Experiencing what I experienced is the same as receiving poor care in-person in a store.  It is enough for me to write this post and to take action against big banks and big businesses. I don’t need to tell you any more details about the situation, but after dealing with the automated service and a customer service representative who was helpful, but not too helpful, I decided I won’t be banking with Bank of America anymore. When I get back to the east coast after this trip, I will be changing banks to a smaller credit union and adopting a “cash only” policy (thanks Japan!) to avoid having to deal with situations like this in the future.

I also highly encourage people in America to consider who you bank with and whether you want them to have as much power as they currently do. There are certain practices that I find troublesome in our banking industry and I find it a bit unnerving that so many people have yet to consider the idea of shutting down big banks.  It’s also amazing that one bad moment with an automated service could cause me to question better business practices and what I want from the businesses I engage with on a regular basis.

If you have any experiences or stories you want to share about automated services and poor customer service please leave them below. As a small business owner and entrepreneur, I’ve always cared about customer service. I think it’s time we start addressing this issue, not just because of money, but because of it’s impact on business and culture on a large scale.

 

Thanksgiving a la Japan! Or This Thanksgiving I am Thankful for Japan

* Note extremely LONG post. You’ve been warned!

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in America. Because I am 14 hours ahead at this point, Thanksgiving just ended. It feels weird because it is Friday night in Japan.

Yesterday, while my friends and family and loved ones were all sleeping off Wednesday into the holiday, I was trekking up to the north of Fukui Prefecture on the hunt for a tourist site called Tojinbo Cliffs located in a town called Mikuni.

Tojinbo Cliffs
Me at the Cliffs in the rain.

Rather than take the JR (Japan Rail) directly to Awara Onsen and catch a bus to the Cliffs, I took JR to Fukui and then transferred to the local railway called Echizen Railway. The rides in total were a little over an hour and well, it’s a good thing I enjoy train rides as much as I do.

When I got off the train at Mikuni, I followed an elderly couple as they walked to a bus stop where a bus was waiting. Within minutes the bus pulled off and drove us along the coast, up a hill and dropped us off at the base of a touristy set of shops and restaurants that led to the Cliffs.

As we all got off the bus, I wasn’t sure where to go as the signs in Japanese led one way and the stores led another. At this point, a woman boldly said to me in English, “well, are you going to come with me?” I was a bit confused, but I said, “Sure!” and followed her through the narrow street of shops and restaurants.

As we walked, she introduced herself (without ever giving me her name) and explained that she was visiting her sister who lives in Kyoto and they had come up to Fukui to see a few sites, Tojinbo Cliffs being one of them. We exchanged conversation for a while about travels and her being from Taiwan and me being from America. She was really very nice. We separated briefly and when we met back together, she was explained that her sister and her were going to get going because they had to catch a train back to Kyoto from Fukui.

Before they left though, they turned to me handed me a Japanese orange and said, “Here is some crab rice, too. We ordered it for breakfast at the hotel this morning and couldn’t eat all of it. Enjoy!”  With that, off they went leaving me with a smile and a chance to walk around the Cliffs alone and in the rain grateful for random meetings and their kindness.

After taking a few pictures and wandering around a bit, I decided to walk down to get lunch. Yes, I ate the crab rice ball (it was delicious!) and I went and had lunch a few minutes later. Either way, I had what I call my Thanksgiving Feast. It was noon and quite a sizeable meal. I had a big bowl of rice with sashimi on top (salmon, octopus, squid, shrimp, and a few other kinds of fish I don’t know) and a smaller bowl of miso soup with two legs of Echizen crab.  It was all incredibly filling and delicious. It was by no means Thanksgiving dinner – there was no turkey, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, arroz con gandules, greens, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, or anything else of that deliciousness, BUT it was hands down some of the best fish I’ve ever had.

Echizen crab!

I decided after lunch that I could head back to the train and maybe walk around Fukui a bit. After all, it was raining and I didn’t know what else to do. I walked to the stop where the bus dropped us off and found the schedule that said I had just missed the bus and the next one would not come for two hours.

At that point, I bundled up more (because it was rather cold) and I started walking. Two more hours at the Cliffs in the rain was not my idea of a good time.  So I walked. And walked some more. And I had no clue where I was going outside of remembering certain things from the bus ride up. At a certain point, I was rounding a curve and came across a wooden building. The sign outside said, “Pueblo Coffee House for Members – Open.”  I immediately got curious. “I mean a coffee house (I love coffee!) in Mikuni named after a Native American Indian Tribe in Japan?” Of course I went in!

When I walked in, the woman, Junko, who I believe is the owner, came out and looked at me curiously. Clearly, I am not a member. I pulled out my Japanese/English dictionary and told her in extremely broken Japanese that I saw her coffee shop and just wanted to look around. She asked if I was American and I said yes and she took my umbrella and showed me in.

Walking into this coffee shop almost made me cry. I am serious. I had many, many emotions welled up inside me as I took in the simple décor of the coffee house, the open and airy space, the owner who was collected and calm and very zen-like, and the small tee-pees and dream catchers scattered all over the place.

Inside decor of Pueblo Coffee House for Members

I recently wrote a post about how I wanted to live on a Reservation as a child and how something about being in Echizen reminds me of that dream every day and this coffee house, this random, small coffee house, in an extremely small town in Northern Fukui, Japan, brought it all full circle.

As I continued talking to this woman in broken Japanese and she in her broken English to me, she pulled out books of American parks out West and about Native American lands. She also offered me a coffee as a “present.” I tried to pay her and she said, “No. Present.”

We celebrate Thanksgiving in America as a way to share our gratitude with our loved ones, but to remember the Pilgrims and Native Americans first harvest together. If we look at Native Americans now, we should be ashamed for celebrating a holiday where we have forgotten the origins and the people we should remember and have all but forgotten.  Instead we overeat and fight with our family, but still say we’re grateful.

At this moment, in “Pueblo Coffee House for Members” I was grateful. Grateful for a delicious cup of coffee (this country does not do coffee well!), a warm place inside from the rain (it rains a lot here!), and this fateful moment where America, Native Americans, my dreams, heritage, love of coffee, travels to Japan and curiosity all converged and brought me to this shop.

I spent a while talking to her and another woman who came in before heading out to continue walking down to the train. As I left, I had the biggest smile on my face. I was happy.

As I continued on down the hill, walking along side the road (no sidewalks), I recognized places I had seen on the bus and knew I was going the right way. I’d say, I walked probably four miles from the Cliffs to the Mikuni train stop, but I had many stops a long the way. I left the bus stop at 12:12 pm and made it to the train station at 2:50ish, just in time for the 3:11 train to Fukui. Not too bad.

Anyway, I ate my Japanese orange as I walked along and watched fisherman bring in their catches of Echizen crab to sell. I watched people come in and buy crabs and even watched one cook steam crabs. Very cool!

As I got close to the point where I had to turn, I noticed the Mikuni Spa. Awara Onsen, the Awara hot springs was 9km away from the Cliffs and I did not want to walk 9km in an unknown direction. I had been itching to get some onsen action on and decided when I saw the Mikuni Spa sign to peek in.

I am so glad I did because it was wonderful! I want to spend many, many more days at hot springs because they are divine!

There was a wonderful moment of confusion where I didn’t know where to go and the girl at the front desk didn’t speak English and the manager had to come out and he didn’t understand me, but we finally made progress and one of the employees showed me the locker room and where to go to change and shower and get in the hot pool.

I didn’t stay in that long because the water is hot and I didn’t want to harm myself by staying in too long, but I stayed in long enough to feel relaxed and to feel good about my decision to spend 500 yen sitting in a pool with naked older women.

After I got out, I wandered around the spa to the “beach” there and noticed how dirty it is and also sent a little message to a friend I am missing and whose birthday it was. I sent it across the ocean and the sand with a kiss and the hope that they received it like a warm hug.  I then turned southeast and walked along to the street needed to get me to the train station.

Dirty, Dirty Beach!

As I turned on the street, I noticed a ton of cute little shops that I hadn’t noticed while on the bus. I was determined to avoid any and all because I had already spent more than I anticipated on my little lunch feast, but my eyes caught a small “stationery shop” and I couldn’t help but enter.

I walked in and greeted the woman, the owner, I believe, and immediately set my eyes on a calendar. It was adorable and I knew in an instant that it was the calendar I would buy for myself for 2013. Adorable and inspirational and just plain cute!  Then I found an expensive pair of scissors that part of me is mad for buying because they were expensive ($12!), but I bought anyway because they say “Mark’s Style” and well, one of my best friends is named Mark and it just seemed appropriate. And then I bought a gorgeous little blue purse/pouch that cost less than both the calendar and scissors individually.

The woman in the shop thanked me quite a few times for the purchase, which made me feel weird, but appreciated. All I could think was, “What an adorable shop and I’m so glad I found it before leaving this town!”  I told her I love her shop and thanked her right back.

As I was getting ready to leave the store, the woman rushed over to a shelf and then turned to me with a pair of socks in hand and said, “Please, present for you.”  She put the socks in my bag and I thanked her. I have been looking for another pair of socks and there was a pair being given to me as a gift. I couldn’t believe my good fortune all day, but furthermore, I couldn’t believe how open and generous all of these women were being toward me.

Currently, I am living in a house where I am a persona non grata.  Things have turned sour between my host and me and I still have seven more days as a guest in her home. You may be wondering why I am staying and the truth is because it is my plan and I’m changing that part of my plan. I’ve already changed my plans enough to leave the house ahead of schedule and in doing so, while going off to discover and see more of Japan, I am also ending my stay in Echizen.

Please know that I am not complaining. As much as I would love to stay here longer, I can feel in my soul that it is time to move on. No regrets there. Not to mention, there is a whole lot of Japan left for me to see and I can’t wait for that stage. Plus, I plan to return to Echizen in the future many, many times, whether I communicate with my host or not in the future. That will have no effect on me.

My point is that my host has done everything in her power, through mannerisms and some words, to let me know that she can’t wait for me to leave. I have graciously not responded. As a matter of fact, I responded with, “I too am looking forward to the day of my departure.”  Because of this, I have battled with at times feeling bad that I haven’t just packed up and left, annoyed at her childishness (although, I get not wanting someone in your house and having to deal with them because an agreement is an agreement, but when you are 30+ there is a way to act), and not feeling bad about it.

Yesterday though, showed me that the horrible person my host is trying to make me out to be is in fact not true. That is her issue. That is her problem. I don’t have to acknowledge nor do I have to fill the role. I can in fact continue to be me, respectful, curious, and generous regardless of what others project and feel.  My host’s feelings are not an actual reflection of who I am. I will remember that and I will move on.

In the past, I would have tried to fix the situation. I would have done anything to make the situation better and to have my host like me again. The other day, as I had a conversation with the bathroom mirror, I looked at my reflection and said, “Sara, it always comes down to one thing: is it worth it or not?” The answer, I saw in my eyes and felt in my heart, “no.” Not because my host isn’t worth it. In fact, she is a great artist and is a kind person, but she and I don’t jive well and that is nobody’s fault, so I said, “I’m thankful for her kindness and generosity the past few weeks, and for having met her, but it ends there. I refuse to feel badly for something I cannot control and for something she is equally unwilling to work out.  While that doesn’t stop the dread of going into her house when she is home at night, once inside in my room, I turn on music and do some work and go to bed. Forgetting that I don’t feel bad, nor care because we’ll be parting soon and I’ll be off to the next steps in my papermaking journey in Japan.

Either way, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and who I am and what I want in life. (Not completely, but enough to let me see a bit of the Sara I know which shows me that I am on the right track and getting closer.) I am grateful for this opportunity and for Japan allowing me to find myself again in her precious bosom – in a Prefecture full of amazing people, culture, and beauty.

I am thankful to have spent Thanksgiving in Japan this year, even though I am a day late in my gratitude and I miss my family.  Most importantly, I am thankful for a wonderful Thanksgiving that brought me to four generous women, who all opened their doors and arms and businesses to this gypsy girl named Sara and reminded me of what being thankful is all about – being at peace with yourself and sharing/spreading love and connection.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Universe, God, Paper Goddess, and all the forces that came into play yesterday and every day as I’ve been on this journey. Gracias y Merci!

Oh, and because I cannot forget this! I’ve talked about my paternal grandmother coming to me when I’m on the right track in her ladybug form many times. So I have to tell you that yesterday, when I got off the train at Mikuni, the poster board outside of the train on the platform was of a large drawn ladybug.  I knew then that going to Mikuni was the right thing to do, I just had no idea how much good fortune and all I’d have to be grateful for would present itself. Thank you, Grandmere!

I hope your Thanksgiving, if you are American, was just as full of gratitude and wonder. If you don’t celebrate the holiday, then I hope you experienced small miracles yesterday that reminded you of the beauty that peppers our small world.

“With Like” – Thoughts On Closing Letters

Two  years ago in May, I met a guy named Leo on a bus ride back to NYC from DC. He was older, like in his 70s, and was on his way to visit a sister who was ailing and talked about getting to see his son, who he doesn’t always get to spend time with. We talked the entire bus ride. He told me about traveling to Asia, meeting his wife, starting his family, running his business. The entire life story. I soaked it up.

I have since learned that I attract old people on buses, because he’s not the first or last oldish person I’ve talked to. My favorite definitely goes to the old man in Hamburg, Germany, back in 2005, who talked about his past and love and life to my friend and I the entire boat ride while we drank hot chocolate. He was delightful!

Anyhow, back to Leo. After Leo and I discussed the basics and I took a nap, we started talking again and he began to share with me articles that he wrote for a small newsletter. They were amazing, really. I was inspired by his writing and in one particular article, titled, “With Like.”

In this article, Leo talked about how we close letters. How every one does their best to be business like, or how sometimes “love” is too intense of a closing, but how “best” is too informal. He suggests that we close with “with like.” His main point is that if you’re writing a letter in this day and age, you clearly “like” the person enough, so maybe close with the proper sentiment.

I agree. Completely.

So I’ve been closing all kinds of letters with different closures trying to figure out which I prefer:

“Best” doesn’t do it for me.
“Cheer!” I love, but sometimes it sounds too excited and depending on the message, might not be appropriate.
“With Love” only gets used for love letters
“love” gets used for family and extremely close friends
“Sincerely” business (but not my business) letters, only
“My all” goes on thank yous
“hugs and love” goes to someone I love, but when I want a more playful note
“hugs” goes to close friends when I’m just sharing a quick note

I’m sure there are more that I’ve signed off with, but I can’t remember them right now. It’s oh, so overwhelming to decide which one to use and I find myself considering Leo’s “With like” more and more.

I think moving forward I’m going to start using “with like” on all my letters, unless they are to my mother, brothers, nephew, and other family members and my love interests. I’ll let you know how it goes. Whether anyone thinks it’s weird or responds concerned.

As for Leo, I’m going to let him know about this post and I’m going to sign my Christmas card to him this December with “with like”. Yep, he’s on my Christmas card list. And this seems mighty right.

If you have a novel way of signing off on your letters, let me know in the comment section. I’m really curious to know if people change them per letter like me, or if you’ve established a closure that is your signature closure.

 

Danielle Laporte + Silence + Me + S2 Stationery and Design

Danielle Laporte is awesome!

I’m new to her camp, although I’ve known about her for a while. I’ve read her stuff and have been on the fence.  That is usually what happens with me. I’ll read someone’s blog and consider it and them and then step away. Mind you, I don’t read many people’s blogs to begin with. I barely edit mine, which means I’m hardly reading anyone else’s thoughts, but still, every once in a while, I’ll come across someone who writes and writes passionately and from the heart and we click. We join forces, unknown to them, and I read and read and read. I may not post or share my opinions on their writing, but I’ll read and share among my friends and on facebook, hoping that those same words strike a chord with them, too.

Anyhow, Danielle Laporte didn’t resonate with me at first. Not to mention, I was still floating on my Chris Guillebeau high, and couldn’t add more to my brain and heart at the time.  But recently Danielle has popped back into my world. I’ve been reading bits of her blog and I follow her on Twitter and well, today, I signed up for her newsletter so that I don’t miss a beat. I think that she, like Chris, have gotten to my core. They have reached that place where I will take time and read their words because they are like lotion to the body after a shower. They are a salve to my soul. They get me.

In a first, I am going to respond to Danielle’s “Burning Questions Series” question from last week, “What’s Your Relationship To Silence?”. She provides some great quotes about silence and they definitely got me thinking to the point where I want to answer the question myself because I learned an important lesson about silence a few years ago and it relates directly to my business, S2 Stationery and design.

I am a great communicator. At least I like to think of myself as one. I like to communicate and over-communicate. In fact, I have always preferred over-communication to silence.

That fear of no communication has always been an amazing thing. It keeps me curious (how is that for a positive spin?). See, my need to communicate has led me to outlets that communicate my need to communicate. It has introduced me to countless new people and activities that I might never have explored. In my youth, there was more than now – belly dancing, Bhangra Indian dancing, and kickball. It lead me to my brief stint with guitar lessons and eventually into marathon running – but I do still find myself signing up for classes and activities to not just learn, but to continue communicating.

In every activity that I’ve done, I’ve asked my friends to join me. I’ve invited them to kickball games and drinking afterward;  marathon cheering (NYC) and fundraising events, not to mention the emails I sent weekly asking for donations; nobody saw me Bhangra Indian dance, but I did invite friends to belly dancing shows, when I was part of one.  In all of this, I also made friends, many of whom are still good friends to this day, even with separation and various life stages, and so communication continued.

And then something big happened.

My dad died. For the first time I felt loss in a profound way and I didn’t know how to handle it. So I communicated. That night, I sat at my computer and wrote an email that stated my dad has passed away, but glossed over it and instead focused on the marathon and raising the last $800. I should have known then that I was in denial.

Anyhow, the outpouring of condolences and concern from friends, not to mention the donations, was overwhelming and it let me know that I was not in fact alone. But I still felt alone and it pushed me toward silence.  I would sit in various places around my mother’s apartment sitting with my dad’s sweatshirt covering me in tears, but silent.

When I returned to NYC after his passing, I was a mess and I never wanted to be alone. I would seek out my aunt and cousins to be surrounded even though I would end up sitting in the room alone, crying.  It wasn’t until one afternoon, after brunch, where I called my cousin in a fit because I hadn’t wanted to be alone, but I didn’t want to go anywhere either that she said to me, “take a nap and when you wake up see how you feel. Then you can come over.” I ended up reading an amazing article about allowing yourself to feel instead of filling yourself with ways to avoid your thoughts and feelings and then falling half-asleep on a bench outside of my apartment. I listened to the kids playing basketball and the people walking by and the birds chirping and I cried and breathed and was silent. It balanced me in a way I needed and it allowed me to go home and bake and cook a feast for myself. It reminded me of my 15 days traveling around Italy where I truly learned about silence.

I spent almost the entire trip to Italy alone – days on trains, walking through cities I did not know, hiking volcanoes that are still deadly and even riding a ricady swing up a hill, thinking I was going to fall out and die- with my thoughts and feelings.  Yes, I ran the marathon with friends and met people and talked to them and developed friendships that still three years later are friendships, but I learned for the first time to listen to myself in the silence. To turn off the ipod and my brain and really listen to how and what I was feeling. By doing that I found my strength and purpose.

I’ve shared plenty of times my story about how my business came to be – the dream in Cinque Terre, Italy – and it bears repeating because S2 Stationery and Design owes it’s origin in silence. It was the silence of the night, but the voice of my dream that has me three years down the road as a risk taking entrepreneur and a stationer.  On a personal note, I owe my appreciation for silence to my dad and to the loneliness and silence my heart felt and still does feel even now.

There are moments, three years later, where I’m carrying to much, or feel too busy and I take note that I’m not getting enough silence. It drives me to madness! The girl who three years ago couldn’t stand silence, is now the woman who craves silence; who needs it more than communication.

In fact, my communication now is with intent. I want to still communicate my feelings and yes, I do still over-communicate, but I want to make sure that I’m communicating the full meaning of my feelings. I no longer just want to communicate to communicate.

Which brings me to the greatest lesson of all – silence is sometimes the best communication.  It is the greatest and the hardest. As an over-communicator, when I don’t hear from someone, especially someone I WANT to hear from, I take it as negative, but the truth is sometimes it’s nothing more than the best. Sometimes it means that that person, that friend, doesn’t need to share everything with you. I have learned that sometimes silence says it all. It is the unspoken bond between two people.  For many who have never experienced this, or don’t quite feel comfortable with themselves in silence, they won’t understand and they may even fight you on it. Those who have felt loss and know the importance of soul searching and seeking and having the phoenix rise from those ashes know that silence is not just a great form of communication, but of learning and comfort, as well.

Of course, it can also be negative, but I think the words the other party and you exchange when you do communicate verbally will tell you that the silence you receive on the other end is not the best kind and does in fact mean you should move on and away. Yet, even in that, there is a positive. It means that you can soldier on toward the next adventure striving for the balance of communication that is both gently spoken and silent.

So Danielle, the short of my answer is that silence is my relationship with silence is comfortable. It is when I feel closest to myself and humanity. It’s also when I feel the most whole and balanced. It’s when I think the best and feel the most free. 

I encourage everyone to embrace their silence. You may just discover your best relationships and the next best business idea! If not, maybe you’ll just discover who you are as a person and that’s the best gift silence can give you.