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?




Echizen, Japan, Week One: Lessons From A Mountain, A Paper Goddess, A Bike, A Crow, Water, Silence, and “Let It Be”, The Song

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be” – The Beatles

Tuesday morning (tomorrow, for me) will mark my first official week in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. It’s been 11 days since I landed in Japan and I think I’m getting closer to feeling adapted. I’m still tired, but I think that’s from all the emotions I’m processing along with all the changes made this past year.

Tuesday is a holiday for the Museum that I’m studying/working at, so I’ll have an afternoon all to myself tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it. I have lots of writing to do and some design projects I need to work on as well. Unless I ask for a day off, I work six out of seven days a week. It’s a bit weird. Alas, I am slowly getting used to things and the way of life around the wonderfully small Echizen-City.

Now why does my title have a list of things and then I promptly share the lyrics to The Beatles, “Let It Be” song? Well, they’re all part of my first week of adapting.

The Crow. The Museum is a 10-minute walk from the house I’m staying at. The house is an old Japanese-style house that is cold in the morning and at night and is right across the street from the Paper Goddess Shrine. I’m working on a blog post (to be posted later this week) all about the Paper Goddess Shrine because it’s important not just to Echizen, but to me, too. The walk is a quiet and quick walk downhill. Except for when my friend, Mr. Crow decides to cry out and let me know that he is here and I should be aware of his existence.

Now, I know that crows don’t have a positive meaning behind them, but I have a good feeling about crows. They have never bothered me before and considering that today, Mr. Crow (maybe a different one?  I don’t know!) pooped on me as I was trying to score free wireless from outside of the cafe during my lunch break, I’m feeling quite an affection for the Crows of Echizen.  (BTW, I always feel bad that I stand outside and use the wireless connection without coming in during my lunch break, but being that I come to the cafe every night during the week to use the internet and pay (coffee is expensive in Japan!) almost $12 for a drink to sit until 7pm and use my computer, I can’t afford to come and pay twice. I know, I know. The good news is that my coming every night is good for business for the little cafe and I am forming a relationship with the owner, who is so nice and kind and sends me off almost every night with sweets.)

“Let It Be.” The song also comes from today. See, before the incident with Mr. Crow, I was sitting at the Museum peeling layers from kozo (the plant we use to make paper) when I heard “Let it Be” playing on what sounded like an organ. It could have simply been a Casio keyboard, but I heard it. It was real. I think. I didn’t ask anyone, mostly because I still can barely communicate with my Japanese Artisan friends, but as I scrapped away, where ever the organ was, played two full renditions of the song. I was shocked, but appreciative of hearing a song I know and enjoy.

Later in the afternoon, after the pooping incident with Mr. Crow, I got back to work and was sitting at the fiber checking station with my hands full immersed in water when I heard the song played again by the same organ. Not lying to you! This was around 1pm/1:30pm. I smiled and went about working knowing that there was a reason that THIS song was being played. (Signs are everywhere!)  During our ocha (tea) break at 3, we were sitting down, talking (well, they were talking, I was nodding like I understood, but didn’t) and the song came on again.

I share the lyrics with you above because they are so simple and so true. Not to mention, I haven’t been to a Catholic Church in many months now. I loosely wear my Catholicism on my sleeve because I only half believe in the organization that is Catholicism, but I was baptized and confirmed Catholic and I therefore respect that I am Catholic. I also seek out Catholicism when I’m in most need. It is my comfort zone. Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect or even look to other religions, because I do.

Japan has a combination of Buddhism and Shinto religions and I have prayed at MANY, MANY temples in the last 11 days, including the temple/shrine for the Paper Goddess that sits behind my current residence. I take my praying to her and on these grounds as sacred as attending a Catholic Church. However, as I listened to “Let It Be” and hummed the words I know, including “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me/ Speaking words of wisdom, let it be/And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me/ Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”  

In my home, Mother Mary is the Queen Bee. I haven’t been praying to Mother Mary, but she found me today and so I know her words of wisdom are “I am here, please let it be.” Thank you, messengers McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr.

A Mountain/A Paper Goddess.  As I’ve mentioned already, I reside in a town that is known for it’s Paper Village. It is a small town with paper studios that make some of the best Washi paper in all of Japan. It is a gorgeous town nestled in the mountains. It gets crazy dark here at night and I’ve been instructed only to worry about bears and wild boars, not crazy people out to kill strangers. Okay. The people are incredibly friendly and kind and have welcomed me for the most part although they all wonder what I am going to do after I learn paper making. I keep telling them that’s the million dollar question!

The woman I am staying with is a huge nature and paper lover. She’s incredibly nice and kind. Yesterday, we hiked a mountain right outside of her back door. We had to go through the Paper Goddess Shrine to reach the point of entrance to the mountain, but it connects. See, the Paper Goddess lives in the mountains and only comes down twice a year when the village holds festivals for her to celebrate her and her annual blessings.  When you get to the top of the mountain, you are in fact at another temple and shrine for the Paper Goddess. It is her mountain location.

Now, I love nature and I was looking forward to hiking, but I’m pretty sure that Mountain was out to kill me. The path is steep, extremely so that my heart never stopped beating fast the entire climb up. Additionally, it is not clean; while the path is easy to follow, there are tons of loose rocks lending to unstable terrain. It didn’t help that it started to rain as we came down (water is coming next).  Being that I don’t have insurance and I don’t want to injure myself, I did my best to take small steps and not step on rocks, but the mountain would not allow for that.

There were several occurrences where my feet slightly slipped, but nothing bad happened, I just skid and kept walking.  But then it happened. My right foot stepped on a wet rock and I came crashing down. I don’t even remember slipping, I just knew that my right hand holding my glass water container came down heavily on the rock to my right (it didn’t break!) and I was butt on the ground. I didn’t even feel a sting, I just was on the ground.

I was reminded while on the ground that the mountain has more control than I ever will. All I can do is pick myself up.
The water reminded me that it does make an impact, even when you’re trying to go slow and not make one.
I’m not sure what the Paper Goddess was saying to me with the fall, but I’d like to believe that it is something along the lines of, sometimes you fall, but you have to pick your self up again and keep on going. Doesn’t seem like something the Paper Goddess might say, but as I have struggle with making paper the past two attempts, I think that was her message. “Stay strong, keep climbing, keep falling, keep doing. You’ll get there. I’m here.”

Water and Silence.The last three months now, I’ve been dealing with a silence I’m uncomfortable with. As my best friend told me just before I left, “to some silence says everything you need to hear, and they’re right, but silence between two people means nothing. Silence is nothing.”

My response to the silence has been to find silence within. To test the ideas of silence and nothing and understanding. It’s been hard and frustrating and reminds me of adding mileage on to a marathon training schedule. In some ways though, being in Japan has helped with the silence because I am more silent then before. Being that I am unable to communicate has allowed me to appreciate non-communicative language, as well as listening. Good stuff, si?!

Anyhow. the silence has brought me more aware of water and the power of water. Water in Echizen is like gold. It is the power of every paper studio. Every day, I find myself wearing white wellies to protect my feet from the gallons/liters or water we use every day to soften and clean the kozo and to mix with the adhesive (not glue) and pulp fibers. Everything has to be cleaned down with a good rinse of water at various times during the day. Everything is about water here and I get it. I understand just how important water is not just for the product, but for the tradition of the product.

How this all ties together is that water only rounds when it is moving about rapidly, right? But even in it’s craziness, it is soothing and relaxes the human soul and can change the course of anything and everything, much like how the rain yesterday made us want to finish our hike faster and resulted in a visit to the laundromat to dry my clothes that had been put out on the line before the rain started during our hike .

Think about the way we listen to the waves at the beach and are relaxed, yet how one powerful wave can remove you from the shore. We have fish tanks and pools and when water is calm it is quiet, although just as powerful.

I have never seen myself as water and yet, many things, especially in the last week have reminded me that I am like water and like the silence. That I am powerful in ways I hadn’t imagined before.  I know this not just because of paper making and the hike yesterday, but because two Sundays ago, I was in Tokyo walking around with two good friends and we visited the Meiji Shrine. It’s a huge attraction in Tokyo and I was told I had to go see it. About 10-minutes after arriving, praying, and getting a fortune, it started to rain.

My fortune from Emperor Meiji read the following:
“Such is the force of water
That it will with gentle pressure
Shape itself to every vessel
And yet pierce the very rock.”

I’m taking all of this as good fortune and awareness. arigatou gozaimashita, Japan!

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.