Love, No Matter How It’s Packaged

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Had the absolute pleasure (and honor!) of coming out of wedding photography retirement to capture the wedding of dear friends, Jason and Marshall!

The ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina was overturned on my birthday this year, and I was so thrilled to witness the outpouring of love and support for NC’s LGBTQ residents—even from unexpected places, like churches! We’ve heard the awful remarks, the ignorant banter, the resignations of local officials—good riddance!—but it seems overall, love (no matter how it’s packaged) is at home in NC. And so, for the moment, are we all.

As we stood in the chilly drizzle last Friday afternoon (though the armed policewoman loomed sharp in our periphery), it was overwhelming to witness a union so many had fought for. A right that should be basic and human, denied and held as privilege.

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This wasn’t my first same-sex wedding. And I hope it won’t be my last. I am a solid supporter of love—no matter how it’s packaged.

600,000 Floating Scarves

floating scarf

When you are traditionally employed, you do your job, and the company functions on pleasantly behind a curtain.

But as worker and owner, it’s a bit of a balancing act. Entrepreneurship is a 24-hour job demanding constant focus. And then you do your job on top of that. Pair those roles with those as a partner, a woman, a daughter, a friend, a human, a pet-parent and a community member—you find yourself pulled in so many directions, with so many responsibilities constantly demanding your attention, but all you really want to do is focus on hermes3your business.

Every minute I’m not focused on my company feels like a wasted (or selfish) moment.

It’s a lot like juggling silk scarves; nothing is immediately crashing down, and it’s not like a fumbling, grasping fast-paced reach for balls. Everything is delicately floating down at once, sneakily, slowly, but if you’re not paying attention it can become a mad frenzy to toss them all up again. I am a woman with 600,000 scarves in the air, and each day at least a third of those touch the floor.

But, as with anything else, practice improves performance. Two years in and I’m dropping fewer scarves (some of them, consciously allowing to fall!). The scarves are getting nicer (I think I even spotted an Hermés among them!) and the tosses becoming more graceful.

I hope you catch all of your scarves today, but even if you don’t, I hope you pick them up off the floor tomorrow and toss them back into the air and try again. And don’t be afraid to ask for an extra hand when you need it.

 

A New Home (away from home).

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Kent and I did some soul-searching last month. We had a long, hard talk about the business, the direction it was going, and our goals for the next 1-5 years. And we both came to the realization that, while the video side of the business was booming and strong, my side was sort of shrimpy and under-developed. I wasn’t getting to work in many of my passions, and was getting pulled in on a lot of video duties that (let’s face it) don’t really excite me.

So I had a nice long think about what it was I actually wanted to do, and I realized that (since I work all the time and my life is completely devoid of joy or hobbies these days) the only activities I’ve enjoyed have been my involvement in the startup community in Greensboro.

So that man (that amazing man) let me take my half of the business and do with it whatever I wanted. Which is to build it into a resource for startups and nonprofits, to help them develop strong brand identities and effectively promote (an area I feel most S’s and N’s struggle with). And to connect my resources at the Startup Lab, the Greensboro Partnership and the Entrepreneurship community to these Startups and Nonprofits to help them grow even stronger.

IMG_2446And we packed up and moved back to Greensboro—hallelujah, amen—and now here we are, working out of our home and the brand new Co//ab space, living in a dandy little home downtown, and life is starting to feel somewhat (dare I say?) perfect.

I can’t believe that word came out of my mouth (or my fingertips, really). But things, for the first time in an epically long time, are good. I can’t help but grin like an idiot when asked “How are you?”, when before I felt the world was always a step away from ending and doom and dread hovered above my head like a dark cloud.

And so I feel the need to reinforce, yet again, two main thoughts:

A. That in order to be happy, you must find the thing that makes you happy and DO IT, no matter what. And that,

B. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is forever. If your situation changes, you, too, can change. It’s never too late.

Go forth and be happy, people. Because it’s up to you to make that happen.

Mortality.

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A shot from an old cemetery in Buffalo, NY. I’ve always liked shooting them.

About a week ago I scrolled through the typical sensationalist headlines that Facebook peppers into my feed and stalled on one that hit rather close to home.

Man dies after routine chiropractic adjustment.

As a frequent sufferer of migraines and headaches (and a person who’s desperately tried everything under the sun to get rid of them), I’m a regular at the chiropractor. In fact, I have about 3 adjustments left on my prepaid account. But I won’t be using them.

There are so many simple things we do in our daily lives (drive cars, walk down stairs, open closets, swallow food, take showers) that could be considered “deadly and dangerous.” And then there are the dangers we opt for (motorcycles, skydiving, foreign travel, elective surgery, sushi…). Yet we take these risks (and more) without a second thought.

The oft-repeated response to “Isn’t Skydiving dangerous?” (The most dangerous part of the skydive is the drive to the drop zone) is, statistically at least, accurate. But if you choose not to skydive, your chances of dying skydiving go down to 0 in 0. You could, if you were very, very boring, eliminate most of the risk in your life in that same way.

Me, about to jump. 2009 (that HAIR!)
Me, about to jump. 2009 (that HAIR!)

I’ve made 84 skydives in my life. The first part of the class you take to train up for your first solo dive is morbid. They tell you everything that could possibly go wrong. And then, in a comforting sort of way, they tell you everything you can do to prevent or fix it. In fact, you rehearse these incidents so obsessively that it becomes muscle memory, and in the event of a crisis (I’ve heard) that memory kicks in almost before you have time to panic.

But there isn’t training for that in everyday life. Slipping in the shower, colliding with a bus, meeting a drunk driver on the road. You’re left to fend for yourself.

For my first 4 or 5 skydives, I remember putting on socks the mornings of the jumps. I remember thinking, these could be the socks I die in. Morbid thoughts like, when my mother identifies my body, these are the socks she’ll see. I was almost mentally preparing for a potential fatality.

But until last week, I never, ever had that thought walking into the chiropractor’s office. It had just never occurred to me (even when signing that completely ridiculous form) that I could be endangering my life. That I could go home feeling fine and then just…die. I was struck by this article because for the first time in several years (since about my last skydive), I was confronted by my own mortality, and the fragility of my life.

What would happen to my business? What would happen to my dogs? What would happen to all of those awful, awful journals I kept in awkward teen years that nobody, ever, should read (and yet I don’t have the heart to destroy)? We’re all deluded by this sense of immortality (it would never happen to me!) when the reality is, it is so easy to die. Our spinal cords, our veins, our bones, our bodies—we are so fragile. One fall, one slip, one chiropractic adjustment could end us. Just like that.

Scary stuff. I know we’re not supposed to talk about death (or to dwell on it), but it reminds me to appreciate that (for today, at least) I’m alive. I’m here to run my business, and to feed my dogs. (And those awkward journals are safe). For today.

I was an assistant, and now I have one…

Dana Dillehunt
Waiting for the train to Manhattan for what was probably a wild night out, with a metallic scarf like that.

I just went through my third round of interviewing people. Young people. Fresh-faced people. Recent or soon-to-be graduates, full of life, vibrating with anticipation, clutching at their degrees and their internships and their participation trophies, the entitlement just dripping off their freshly pressed suits, with no clue how the real world works or what it has in store for them.

I want to laugh at them, but I also want to be them…

At one point I was them. I roamed the streets of New York in black Payless heels and a Target suit jacket in the middle of August, the heat rising up from the gum-coated sidewalks, my gen 2 iPod cranking out Belle & Sebastian as I walked the 60-ish blocks from Columbus Circle (one interview) to Astor Place (another interview) since I couldn’t afford the Metro fare. After about three weeks of roaming an unfamiliar city, clutching a stack of proofed and re-proofed resumés, I found myself with three job offers and a huge choice to make.

You see, this was pre-2008, and they were practically just GIVING jobs away.

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22, full of hope and optimism and vodka-cran.

Job one was with a financial firm as a proofreader, with no opportunities to move up but (surely! The economy! So great!) plenty of room for raises. Job two was with a staffing service, as a resumé editor/coach for those seeking jobs. But the third job, and of course the lowest-paying of all, was something of a dream job: I would be the personal assistant to the female Chief Creative Operator at an advertising agency.

Ironically, the very job I am interviewing candidates for at this very moment.

That experience, to which I refer as my Devil Wears Prada year, did not stray far from the book/movie, so there’s no need to tell you about it. And every night I would lie awake, work-assigned BlackBerry close by, and tell myself “One day I’ll have an assistant, and I promise not to do to her what you do to me.” For one, if I sent him/her for Starbucks, I would always include enough $ for them to get something too. And bathroom breaks would always be allowed. So.

This process has been entirely too full-circle. I realize I’m not the woman I worked for during that first job out of college, nor do I claim to have her experience or validity. Please allow this impostor syndrome moment (sorry Sheryl) but I’m just a gal who tried to make it work working for others, and realized I did much better on my own. I know I still have tons to learn, but I do have to pat myself on the back: I’m damn good at my job.

It’s the other stuff I’m not so good at. And that’s why I need an assistant. A bright, fresh-faced young person, full of hope for their future, convinced they’ve got everything it takes to launch into a career and be the best at everything in a world that just can’t wait to welcome them, and no more ready for the truth than I was.

Welcome aboard, Kid. Get ready, it’s going to be a wild ride. (And for the record: grande iced americana in a venti cup with one pump of vanilla, skim & ice to the top, and a dash of cinnamon.)

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Me on my rooftop in Brooklyn, looking off into the distance and thinking how awesome everything will always be forever. 2007

The Potato Salad Phenomenon

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Have you heard about this guy in Ohio with the Kickstarter for making Potato Salad?

I’m making potato salad.

Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.

Last time I checked in (just a few days ago), Zack “Danger” Brown had raised almost $5000 to make this potato salad. At nearly 30000% funding, the stretch goals are becoming more and more epic.

At first, it seemed like a joke. But for some reason, the internet took him seriously and now it seems the world is watching, waiting, and participating in this global potato salad.

I’ve seen (and even aided) in Kickstarter campaigns for fantastic projects, inventive products and even great films that haven’t garnered nearly this much attention. So why did this one take off (and why should we care?)

Simple yet generous rewards

Starting his rewards at just $1, Zack promises to add your name to the website and say your name aloud while making the potato salad (and with 1000+ backers at that level, he’ll need to take his time). But at a mere $20, you get the POTATO MADNESS package: he’ll write you a haiku, carve your name in a potato, send you a signed jar of mayo, a photo of him making it AND the recipe, you get to choose an ingredient, and of course your name will be read aloud. Most Kickstarters offer much less at that level.

Straightforward, non self-serving request

He’s just a simple guy, with a simple purpose: making potato salad. And he’s totally willing to share it with you. We’re all in this with him, because he seems like a nice guy, and he’s not really asking much of us. Rather than “give me the seed money to get rich off of this idea”, it seems the entire purpose is encapsulated within the campaign. He’s not trying to change the world, or even do anything that hasn’t been done before. And yet, this potato salad has taken off faster than Bring Reading Rainbow Back.

A unifying cause

The way Zack has presented this simple potato salad,  it belongs to the world. It belongs to the internet (and we’re all invited to taste it).

Kickstarter, as we know it

Can we learn something from this approach to make our future Kickstarters better? Or is Kickstarter now the joke of the internet, and we’re the punchline? I think we’re definitely going to see a ton of copycats (I’m Also Making Potato Salad) and quite a bit of Kickstarter clutter in the coming months, and we may even see a harshening of Kickstarter policies as a result. But there is a takeaway here to the keen observer: people know when they’re being marketed to, they know when they’re being included—and they know the difference. By structuring your campaigns in a less self-serving, more inclusive way, you have the potential to be the next potato salad.

Back to Blogging (and why Selfish isn’t a bad thing)

As I’ve settled into my new role as a business owner, manager, and creative director I spend a lot of time creating on-demand for clients. My creative work goes through their filter, of course (and then the filters of their bosses and leaders and legal team and advisors) and the final product is not always what I set out to create.

I’m not really shooting anymore, and I am definitely not taking any time to be crafty or creative in the kitchen, so I’m in need of an unfiltered outlet. I miss blogging, and since I took my portfolio website down (not booking anymore weddings, so no point) the blog went with it.

About a month ago I got really, really run down. I thought I had the flu. I was exhausted and I couldn’t even move. I even had a migraine for about four days straight. Turns out, there was nothing wrong with me. Except that I needed to start taking care of myself.

When you’re an entrepreneur, your business comes first (and second, and third). There’s this intense fear that if you spend one second away from that focus, failure is just around the corner waiting to jump. Like how we say “Bless you!” when someone sneezes, because letting their guard down for just that second is enough time for the devil to reach up and snatch their soul away.

So things like sleep, food, vitamins, haircuts, shopping, vacuuming, laundry…they all become “luxuries.” And taking time to go eat a nice meal, or get a full night’s sleep, or get your hair did? It feels selfish, and unnecessary.

But it is necessary. And selfish. And we need to be more selfish.

If I don’t take care of myself, who will be able to do the work I do? By putting myself at least second, I’m able to continue to put my work first. So I began taking vitamins. And eating regularly. And drinking water. And a li’l sum-sum for anxiety. And I feel better, so I can work harder. And I have more energy for a creative (selfish) outlet—like blogging.

I still don’t have time to go to Target or TJ Maxx, my two favorite places on the planet, but online shopping while on conference calls? Totally fine. After all, I’m the boss. Who’s going to walk up behind my computer and tell me I can’t?

So I Didn’t Move to Portland…a brief update.

Kernersville NC

I figured an explanation was due, since I had so publicly announced that Kent and I were moving to Portland, OR and now in June, here we still are.

Back in November, we were at an impasse. Maslo Trading Co. seemed to be stagnant, with few opportunities for growth. I had decided not to book any more wedding or portrait shoots, but didn’t quite know what my next step was. We felt pulled to the west coast, and the promise of opportunity held therein.

So we made a plan, set a date, and started trying to build our business out there. I spent the month of January in Portland networking, exploring, researching. And I kept hitting dead ends.

Meanwhile, back home, things started picking up. Maslo booked a big job. And then another big job. And they kept coming. I returned to Greensboro with a full-time gig waiting for me to accept it. Running Maslo became my life before I even had a chance to think about it or accept it.

Through some strange serendipitous events, we found ourselves moving into an office in Kernersville (completely unexpected, and not at all a location I would have considered. Until I saw THE SPACE!) and working with enough clients to expand our team. I am growing into my role as Creative Director, a role that—had I stayed in the advertising career path I began almost 10 years ago—I would have to dream to land (or at least put in another 15-20 years of work under someone else). We have grown so quickly it’s impossible to believe, and yet it has been so organic and natural it almost seems easy.*

And now, as our lease ends in Greensboro, we pack up and prepare to head west—to Kernersville. It may not be Portland (and it certainly lacks the dining options!) but for now, I’ll take it. After all, a 4-minute commute to the office means it’s even easier to put in these 14 hour days!

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*Not to say that I consider working 24/7 on something and living in fear of potentially never seeing a paycheck easy. But the process has been much less painful than expected.

Candied Grapefruit Peel

 

A few fun facts about this post: it was shot yesterday in my kitchen. It is difficult to shoot and pour at the same time! These photos are straight out of the camera, unedited. The idea to make these came out of last month’s Bon Appetit, and I’ve simplified their instructions a bit.



So, while you’re making these, life is going to feel very complicated and french (? I know, I can’t explain it). And then at the end, you get a cocktail, and I’m not sure what country you’ll feel like then but you’ll feel great and hopefully it’s daytime because that is an absolutely wonderful time for a cocktail.

The ingredients are simple: only grapefruit (really, any citrus will do), sugar, and water. And then of course bourbon + bitters later. But everyone Continue reading “Candied Grapefruit Peel” »

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Wedding

Reid and Carolyn might be the most adorable people I have ever met. Their faces on their wedding day made me so incredibly happy—I think everyone felt kind of swept up into things that day. It’s contagious: two giddy, smiling faces happier and more in love than ever.

When we first met, they were both programmers working at a startup here in Greensboro (together). We had lovely chats about what it’s like to work side-by-side with your partner. We had lovely chats about our wacky mixed-breed dogs. And then—they got ridiculous jobs at Amazon… Continue reading “Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Wedding” »