Why NOT be a community resource?

Love me some Kelly Diels. Her writing about FLEB (Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand) tactics and nastiness were instrumental in identifying and then breaking free of some negative things in my own life. Today’s piece for Medium definitely pinged me on both sides of the radar a little bit. Not because I disagree with it – I actually agree with some of what she is saying so strongly – but I also feel like that is such a deeply personal choice.

I”m struggling with this in particular.

If we are required to make ourselves into community resources accessible to anyone who wants or needs us, any time, then we are undermining the surge towards collective justice and personal autonomy and reinforcing the very logic of oppression.

Undermining collective justice and personal autonomy? I’m… not sure I agree.

I’m not required to make myself into a community resource. I choose to offer myself as a resource in a well-boundaried, carefully thought out fashion.

Really my response to this was, “Don’t fucking tell me I’m undermining someone’s personal autonomy by offering them pro-bono or reduced cost services via my partnership with whatever community agency is helping them. Why don’t you go have a conversation about autonomy and agency with the person who is dealing with the trauma of birthing within a system that rejects the autonomy and choices of the birthing person. Then we’ll talk.”

Birth work is a part of my activism.  I am a feminist and an activist. Women’s reproductive choice, rights and access to care matter to me. It takes a lot of forms, it takes a lot of shapes.

I’m not an activist in the birth room, no, I’d never bring an agenda – political or personal – into someone’s birth. That’s unethical. But how I choose to go about my birth work is absolutely a form of activism and it is very personal.  Educating my clients about their bodies, the birth process, their choices, and empowering them to advocate for themselves during their births is a form of activism. Helping new parents transition into parenthood in a confident, healthy, emotionally connected way is a form of activism. Making sure my business is always becoming more inclusive and culturally competent, accessible to all women who want a doula and not just those who can choose a “luxury” service, you bet that’s my activism.

Don’t want to be a community resource? Don’t be a community resource. Don’t want to give your personal time to something? Don’t give your personal time to something. But don’t tell folks who DO want to do that, that they are undermining and contributing to the problem. How about you keep solving the problem in your way, I’ll keep solving the problem in my way? Because the people who ultimately lose, when there is this kind of struggle, are the people who desperately need the support in the first place.

I don’t have time to talk about theory and systems of oppression with you today because today I am talking with a mother (who would otherwise be giving birth alone), about the gritty reality of how to navigate the local healthcare system, find a provider who takes Medi-Cal, and make empowered choices for her birth.

Priorities.

Obviously this piece pushed some big buttons for me and those buttons are rooted in having a bunch of rhetoric about the evils of free birth shoved down my throat for almost two years and the disempowerment inherent for me in just… swallowing that party line.

Bottom line is this: I’m 47 years old, my kids are grown, I have some spare time, I have some resources, and if I choose to spend some of that time and some of those resources on being a community resource then please, stop judging how I do my thing. I spent years focused on my family and myself. This is the stage in my life where I can actually focus up and outwards and on the world a little bit. I don’t feel like my labor or body are being leveraged by the patriarchy and oppressive systems. What does feel oppressive is the judgment of my fellow feminists.

Here’s a radical thought, what if we taught our children that they get a choice? If we taught people from day 1 how to boundary and balance the service they choose to provide to others?  What if we taught people that it’s okay to choose, and that they are ultimately the arbiters of their own choices, as activists, citizens, and parents.

Obviously I’m still unpacking this.

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In which I am sucking badly at doing new things.

…and that’s basically just fine. There comes a point in every artist’s life when you’ve been doing something for a while and you develop a certain mastery over your craft. It feels effortless (or at least, you don’t have to think about it quite so hard) and you can generally get the results you want 99% of the time, without too much struggle.

Wire wrapping and metal are, in many ways, in that place for me. There are areas where I am still on a steep learning curve but overall I’m very comfortable with metal arts. There’s very little swearing in the process any more. My hands know what to do with the tools.

This is typically a great time to start doing something new. Something that you’re not good at. Something you have to struggle with and get stuck in beginner’s mind around. I fell in love with the art of Elspeth McClean and Jessika Jacob (and so many other artists, it’s a popular medium) a few years ago and recently decided to hack the dot painting code and figure out how to do it. I love Elspeth’s stylized, precise style and use of vibrant colors. I love Jessika’s subtle way of blending color so delicately, and the way she goes big on her canvases.

As with anything self-taught, typically one has to steal like an artist until you figure out how to make your own way and transform a technique into something unique to you.  There are a lot of people doing dot mandalas out there. They’re super beautiful and I love them, admire the skill and artistry, and the color play that they exhibit. It’s just that I don’t want to linger in that place where you can’t immediately tell one of my rocks or canvases apart from someone else’s rock.

Well the good news is that I don’t have to worry about staying there because I’m definitely no where near there yet. My work definitely does not look like what anybody else is doing. Because right now it mostly just looks like a badly executed, hot mess.  I’m not smack talking my abilities, I’m not down on myself, I’m actually completely delighted with how shitty the work I’m turning out is right now so please don’t tell me “Oh I’m sure it’s better than you think.”   Trust me it’s not and I’m super fine and okay with that. I want to be looking at these canvases and thinking, “Oh. No. No, no, no.” I want to be figuring out how to load my brush properly, how to make the paint flow the way I want it, the best paints to use for this, the best consistency, how to make things precise, to train my eye and hands.

The way you do that is by doing a lot of it wrong and learning from the bones out how to make it right. Right now, the plan is to do that.  To find at least an hour every day, pursue different avenues of inspiration, learn, learn, learn, and paint dot art every day for the next 90 days.

Y’all, I’m about 5 or 6 days in and I’m dreaming in dots.

In 90 days this will all have gelled – hopefully – and have begun to evolve towards something that looks like actual technique and a distinctly individual, no longer quite as derivative, style of my own.

Here’s hoping I have something to show you at that point. In the meantime, go feast your eyes on the artists I linked up top, the ones who are inspiring me to try.

In the interests of “don’t quit your day job” I’ve made some fun art jewelry pieces – the torched enamel components I’m using to build these earrings are NOT my work. That’s another currently shitty learning curve I’m on, one that is slightly scarier because it involves fire.  I am slowly getting all the new jewelry pieces up in the shop. You should check them out.

If you should need a doula in the Los Angeles area, well, you can find me at Below The Line Birth Services.  I’m currently open and booking births and postpartum clients into fall. If you need a warm, creative doula who swears who is going to be supremely laid back and relaxed about supporting your learning curve into new parenthood, I’m your girl.  I support all kinds of parents and family dynamics, and I specialize in artists and entertainment folks who have non-traditional schedules.

I pinky swear promise to wash all the paint off before I handle your newborn. 😀

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What if you want to charge less? Other thoughts about pricing.

And maybe still working out some stuff around previous-doula-org, too.

“Knowledge without mileage equals bullshit.” – Henry Rollins

The other day I was talking about raising my prices as a jewelry designer and metalsmith. Today I’m going to talk about dropping my prices as a doula and why I did it.

I took a weekend workshop a couple years ago and when it was done, I called myself a professional doula because that’s what the organization that trained me said I was. They told me I could charge the same rates as doulas who had been doing this work for decades because I was “enough.” People insisted that being a doula isn’t rocket science Really? A couple years and several trainings, re-trainings, advanced skills workshops, mentorings, seminars, births and clients later, it actually does feel a lot like rocket science at times. I’m still learning how to provide the very best support and care to my clients, work with providers, build positive relationships with other birth professionals, and grow my skills.  With every birth, I learn.

When I tried to speak about this to people in my old organization, I felt shamed. Justifying my prices to people outside the organization felt horrible and I wasn’t getting hired. More shame. I cried with relief after retraining, when I gave myself permission to drop my rates.

I’m not saying that if you’re new you should charge less simply because you are new. I don’t actually care what people coming in to the doula profession charge. I care that they feel empowered to decide that for themselves without repercussions or blowback.

I care that I was gaslit and told I was devaluing myself and other women when I said that charging more felt out of integrity to me. I care that I was made to feel guilty for that.

I care that other doulas pressured me to charge more, to charge less, to work for free, to not work for free. I care that other doulas thought they had the right to say word one about my decisions. Regardless of their good intentions, it wasn’t their place or their business.

I really care that other entry level birth-workers don’t go through the same pressure and hell around this as I did.

I dropped my prices because that was the right choice for me.  I still make a living wage.  There’s an end game here, a point where I’d like to get to.  I’m not there yet.  I’ll get there. Right now I’m working towards a goal and most importantly, I feel really good about where my prices and experience meet right now. I am in harmony.

Integrity is everything. 

Since when is it not okay to be entry level, to be new at something, to be on a learning curve, to have room to grow? Training has value. You leave your workshop as a new doula, one who is educated, trained and hopefully ready to gain insight, skill and experience.You don’t actually have to be an expert to have credibility and value, to be good at what you do. You just have to have integrity and be honest about who, and where, you are. Experience and mileage also have value. It’s okay to be in the process of getting those. You don’t have to “fake it till you make it.” That’s a set-up and you’ll regret it. Don’t lie to your customers, not even by omission or implication. Let them see your value, new doula, as a new doula. Learn. Get better.

It’s okay if the number we set to put value on our services changes as our experience grows. If it moves, as we move.

I think my old org was on the right track with telling new doulas not to devalue themselves as professionals with something to offer just because they are new. At the same time, the message was one that not-so-subtly devalued the impact of time, experience and mileage. Imo, that sets new doulas up for a really ugly reality check, not empowerment.

In birth work, as with anything, you get to define where your price point, learning, and experience all meet. If that’s a moving target, and it is for many of us, that’s okay.  Your training and certification organization should not get to dictate what that looks like. Other people in our profession should not get to dictate that to you.  You should not be bullied or pressured by anyone on this point.

Don’t worry about anyone else’s opinion.

Not even mine.

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And while we’re on the subject of the shop…

The Etsy store is open again while I finish the new website/shop which will (hopefully, fingers crossed) be live sometime in June…

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Slowly, slowly, it’s filling back up.

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Prices. A thing we wrestle with. But it is important, so wrestle and above all charge what you’re worth.

Pricing has always been one of the things I’ve always struggled with as a designer. Believe it or not, it can feel really hard to charge money for your work. To ask people to pay you what something is really worth can bring up all sorts of stuff. It’s been seven years since I began designing and selling my jewelry and oh, what a process that has been.  I make better jewelry than I did when I first started, of course. I make better jewelry now than I did when we were at the shop at Crafted and I make better jewelry than I did even a year ago on the Northern Faire circuit. Why? Practice. Doing.  Making.

The more you do something, the more you explore a craft and your process within it, the better you become. It’s a pretty simple numbers game.

But that’s all really hard to explain when you’re standing there at a show and someone is holding your work and staring at it like it just grew legs, and sniffing, “Too expensive.” or asking you, “Can I get a better price on this?”  No. No, you can’t get a better price on that.

I tell myself that those people, the ones who are not willing to pay me what I am asking for my work, they’re just not my people. Experts, other jewelry designers, the internet,  they all tell me that too. And yet. And yet… there’s still a crazy clutch of fear that comes and settles in my gut, when the time to price my work comes around.

I raised my prices when we re-branded and re-opened. By quite a bit in some cases. Why? Because the work is better than it was a year ago, two years ago, three. Because it’s luxurious and gemmy and freaking fabulous.

Because it’s worth every penny.

Everyone used to tell me, “Oh my gosh your prices are so reasonable. You’re so cheap!” and they’d buy and feel happy because they were getting a great bargain and they knew it. I knew it too. It made me happy, win/win, right?

Not really. Not so much a win/win.

I should have listened. I should have heard and thought about what they were saying. I should have listened because the truth is, I was under-charging like, whoah. My prices were only reasonable if you were standing on the other side of the table. When it came to me, they were unreasonable.  It’s the main reason why I burned out, why I got so damn tired and depressed, why I lost the joy in making. I was losing so much money on each show, bleeding out with each online sale, each transaction. Undercharging was the reason why I had to stop, because after a while, it just wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t something I could sustain. We didn’t have the resources or time for me to keep doing it, not financially and not energetically.  Materials cost money. Each pair of intricate earrings takes several hours to complete, start to finish. Time costs money. Marketing costs money. Each sale on Etsy, you bet, it costs money. Shipping, taxes, website, accountant, gas, hotels… you get the drift.  I love doing this. But it has to be something that sustains itself, my family and my life.  I can’t lose money on it anymore.

Honey&Ollie was an amazing experience. Honey&Ollie also almost drove me into bankruptcy.  I made bad choices, and those bad choices put me into a real financial crisis.

This time around, I’m being a little more fearless when it comes to asking people to pay me for my work, for these beautiful creations. It scares me. I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose a few customers. I’m also pretty sure I’ll keep some others. And new ones will come.

I guess what I’m saying is this: don’t be afraid to make big changes if something isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to claim the value of your work and your time. And don’t be afraid that you might lose people when you assert that worth. Those people aren’t your people. They may be someone else’s people. And that’s really okay. Yours are out there. Or they may still be your people, but due to resources and reality (we all go through financial tight spots), they can’t afford your new prices. That’s okay too. They’ll remember you when things get better.

If you are one of my past customers, and the new prices are just too much, I just want to say… thank you.  Thank you so much for supporting my work in the past. Thank you for buying my work in the past. Your support really mattered. It was important. Thank you.

If you’re a past or new customer, looking at my stuff and thinking, “Girl, it is about damn time, hell yes I want those earrings.” (actual comment received yesterday, re: new prices) Well, the store is open. Welcome. Welcome back. And thank you too. I’m so excited to work with you. ❤

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Welcome Home

Since we moved back to Los Angeles last August, it’s been a process of figuring out what old things that I wanted to pick back up and finding new things to take the place of stuff that no longer quite fits. One of the things that still fits, happily, is the Renaissance Faire. Which is unsurprising, given that it’s my 30th year.
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Instead of running my own show, I’m tucked into a corner at the OrtFaerie booth this year, at the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California, with a few of my pieces up for sale. It’s nice to be working for someone else and helping them with their booth instead of worrying about all the details of my own. We have magic wands, faerie lures, wind chimes, flutes and magical hangings… it’s pure enchantment. The artist, Joyce Nunamaker McCall is wicked talented and her husband Fred McCall is there playing his wood flutes throughout the day.

Plus you can see some of the lovely new pieces that are starting to roll off my bench…

 

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I did a thing.

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Its’ been a year and a half since I touched a hammer or pair of pliers. I have no new stones, no new metals, I’m missing supplies, I’m out of butane but by golly, I did a thing.

It feels good to be back.

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