Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do What You Love

When I was a young man, older people often advised me, “Do what you love, the money will follow.” The problem was that I could never figure out what I loved; there were simply too many things I enjoyed, and I could not settle on one endeavor. I was like the proverbial jack of some trades, master of none. I used to look at people who had been employed at the same job for 20, 30, 40 years, and wonder how they could possibly stay on task that long. My soul was far too restless to contemplate anything beyond a five year horizon.

Twin Rocks Trading Post
Twin Rocks Trading Post

In addition to my professional uncertainty, I had the added handicap of believing that everyone has a specific purpose in life, and that finding it ensures happiness. It is a lot like thinking there is only one real love in your life and you need only locate him or her to be perfectly satisfied. Fortunately for my sanity and the sanity of those around me, I finally realized both those ideals are based in myth, not reality.

When I first moved to Bluff, I expected to stay no more than three years. Having been at the trading post for almost 20 years now, I have learned that love of job, like love in general, is a constantly evolving process which requires immense patience and monumental work. In both arenas, success is never guaranteed and perseverance is the most valuable commodity.

My first years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, like my first experiences with love, were fraught with uncertainty. When artists came in with a basket, a rug, pieces of Pueblo or Navajo pottery, folk art carvings or turquoise bracelets, necklaces or buckles, I found myself completely confounded. Uncertain of my position, I would always ask myself, “Is this a quality piece? Will it sell? How much should I pay? Is the artist asking too much? Am I offering too little?”. The answers were never clear.

Since I was completely unsure what the prices should be, and since my linear mind needed the security of a reliable system for every situation, I universally began the negotiating process by offering the artist half their opening price; if they wanted $200.00, I proposed $100.00. When they began walking out the door, I knew my offer was too low. If they kept pitching, I knew we were getting close. It did not take long for the resident Navajo negotiators to figure out my plan. Once they did, if they wanted $200.00 for their rug, they would ask $500.00. It took me a while to realize that all those broad smiles meant I was now paying a premium.

After a time, I found myself developing relationships with the Mary Blacks, Joann Johnsons and Elsie Holidays of the region, and being a lot more comfortable buying and selling the local arts and crafts. When Barry began coming to Bluff on a regular basis, things got a lot easier; we could bounce issues off one another and generally get close to a sensible decision.

What I ultimately discovered was that I am in love the people and culture of southeastern Utah. It took several years, but I have begun to see the wonder in the bumps, wrinkles and folds of this land and its inhabitants. In so many ways, my relationship with this job and its daily cast of characters is like a marriage; the uncertainty of the early years have given way to a sense of compatibility and comfort. Through all the frustration, fatigue and mania, I have found that I developed an unbreakable bond with this mistress called Twin Rocks Trading Post. Although there are times when I threaten divorce and refuse to acknowledge her presence, I realize that she has become me and I have become her; we are indistinguishable, inseparable. I may have finally found true love.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kitchen Counter Opinions

Recently I have been enduring an altercation concerning the alteration of our home. Laurie has been saving dimes and dollars for the past ten years to remodel our kitchen. My wife has to be one of the most patient human beings on the planet; having, for 22 years, suffered through a mind-bending, emotionally stressful relationship with a man from the far side of Mars.

Navajo Silver & Coral Bracelet by Tommy Jackson
Navajo Silver & Coral Bracelet by Tommy Jackson

Laurie loves to cook and keep a nice home. She claims it helps maintain her sanity, so an antiquated kitchen would no longer do. For 17 years this woman has tolerated a cramped cooking area which was built in the 1940s. This part of the house is complete with peeling lanoleum, a semi-functional stove top and reverberating refrigerator. Forty year old flickering fixtures light our evening meals, and cracked and creaking cupboards houses our canned goods and dish ware. We are the dishwasher. My opinion was, "Hey we have a decent place, let's buy another Navajo rug or basket." For some reason Laurie believes investing in a kitchen is more essential. I figured we could achieve Hozho by investing in Navajo art.

After witnessing what I perceived to be an outrageous emotional reaction, I gallantly acquiesce to her wishes. Recently Laurie began to see the light at the end of her turbulent tunnel; the much desired end-result of years of frugality was at hand. The necessary funds had been saved and a new, gleaming food service area was at hand. Then, just as Laurie reached her financial goal, the economy took a header; it tanked like a torpedoed battleship and sank like a rock.

Even though Laurie had conscientiously scrimped, saved and done without for such a long time in anticipation of getting her wish, I considered counseling her to pull the financial plug. I thought it might be wise to hunker down and ride out the economic storm. I was verging on a culinary catastrophe. As usual, I began to over-think the dilemma. Laurie was willing to put-off the remodel and do without for awhile longer if I thought it necessary. Our buddy Mr. O'bama, however, continued to advise the American people to stimulate the economy by spending their hard earned cash. As my father says, "Yah, but its my money!" I was at a loss which way to turn.

Recently I read an article on that stated,/ "A new study in the journal Neuron shows when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal. A zone of the brain popularly called the "oops area" becomes extra active, while the "reward area" slows down, making us think we are too different."/

Caught in a carnival of economic bumper cars, I was radically bouncing off the "oops area" and cleanly missing the "reward area". Confusion reined! Then one morning clarity struck like a flash of lightning. Steve and I were polishing glass at the trading post and discussing life as we know it. I explained my remodel dilemma and vented about being house broken. Being the sensitive type, Steve empathized with my pain, then shook his head and said, "Man if I were you I would let that woman have her kitchen. Because of her you are not and never will be in debt. Let her have it!" For the first time ever, Steve was right. I was amazed! It is always easier to see the truth unencumbered by emotion.

Because of the downturn in housing starts we were able to secure one of the best builders in southern Utah. Milan is an excellent contractor and, as it turns out, a pretty good mediator as well. One of our customers explained something to me long ago that makes a great deal of sense in my current situation. He said, "Men are hunters, women are gatherers." Boy was he right, at least in the case of Laurie and me. I wanted to go out, get some kitchen stuff and "get 'er done!" Laurie, on the other hand was in the "gatherer" mode. The woman was driving me mad. She was motivated to select each and every item with the utmost care and diligence. I was given me the opportunity to accompany her, find the gadget and bring it safely home. Her comment was, "This should satisfy your blood lust". It didn't.

In the midst of this madness, our daughter McKale woke up the other morning in a sweat, complaining of monsters chasing her through a dark and tangled forest in an attempt to devour her toes. She was visibly shaken, and understandably upset about loosing appendages. I told her there was really nothing to fear, the dream was not real. The true concern, I counseled, was adult dreams based in reality; visions of multitudes of aggressive sales people pursuing me through volumes of consumer reports, warranties and rebates in an attempt to sell me cabinets, counter tops, tile and appliances while the unstable walls of economic security come tumbling in on me. Now that is really scary stuff!

It is said that if a couple can manage the stress of building a house or remodeling a kitchen, they can survive anything. I believe this statement to be true. To be perfectly honest, I nearly failed the test. I fussed, fumed and fought the entire time. Laurie tolerated my wild mood swings and angst at going against my better judgment, and somehow we survived; I am still alive.

Yesterday I excitedly told Laurie about an incredible coral/overlay bracelet by Navajo artist Tommy Jackson and argued we should hoard it away for immediate gratification and future appreciation. Laurie's brunette locks bobbed as she shook her head from side-to-side. She looked at me knowingly with those endearing sage green eyes and gently informed me of plans for a . . . sprinkler system.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bailout Beads

Barry and I have begun to see the light at the end of this current economic tunnel. After months of frantically trying to sell all the turquoise bracelets, Navajo rugs, Native American moccasins, cards, books and baskets we possibly can to ensure Twin Rocks Trading Post collects enough tax revenue to keep America financially afloat, we have finally hit on a solution.

I Want You To Buy Bailout Beads!

Before we discuss our plan, a little background might be helpful. As we all know by now, in October of last year, Congress rolled out its initial plan to rescue our faltering economy; the cost, $700 billion. When that did not go as planned, Congress decided an additional $787 billion would be needed. All this spending has lead President Obama to project a budget shortfall in the neighborhood of $1.75 trillion for fiscal year 2010.

Mr. Obama has some talented people on his team; Larry Summers and Tim Geithner to name a few. After 20 years at the trading post, however, there are few people in the land of the free and the home of the brave who know more about budget deficits and creative financing than Barry and I. We have seen our share of lean times, and so far have survived them all. As a result, I scheduled a conference with Barry last week to begin working out our own national recovery plan.

During our trading post summit there were some extremely tense moments, and times when I was sure we would not pass a recommendation out of committee. Towards the end of the afternoon, however, we began discussing some of our more successful initiatives. One program that got a lot of attention was Bridge Beads.

Now, as anyone associated with Twin Rocks Trading Post over the past two years knows, Bridge Beads have been an interesting aspect of our business. When the Bluff Swinging Bridge washed out in the great flood of 2005, Barry and I decided we needed to do what we could to save it.

Although the bridge was eventually removed for safety purposes, a movement is afoot to rebuild this important monument. By selling cedar berry beads for $5.00 a strand, the trading post has been able to contribute over $10,000.00 towards the enterprise. That gave us an idea; Bailout Beads.

Our goal is to sell 200 billion strands of beads at $5.00 each, thereby generating enough revenue to send $1 trillion to Mr. Obama to subsidize his stimulus package. Although we initially worried this might divert funds from the swinging bridge, we were happy to discover that rebuilding infrastructure is a significant component of the President’s plan. We can therefore kill two birds with one stone; save the economy and the bridge at the same time.

Steve wearing Bailout Beads @ Twin Rocks Trading Post
Steve wearing Bailout Beads
at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Wondering how to get the process started, we fretted over our marketing plan. Taking our cue from those jars we see at Subway, where sandwich mavens drop a few bucks into the pot to encourage tipping, Barry and I placed $10.00 of our own money into the Bailout Bucket to prime the pump. As a result, our generous customers have added another $40.00, so we have only $ 999,999,999,950.00 to go.

Assuming our program is successful, we will renew it each year until the economic sun once again shines upon all Americans. After that we are going international. Don’t be the last one in your neighborhood to have a strand, call today. Uncle Steve Needs You.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mary's Turtle and Textile Basket

It was a pleasant surprise to see Mary Holiday Black walk through the Kokopelli doors at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Mary's basket production has slowed over the past several years, so we do not see her as often and it had been several months since her last visit. She was carrying a large object wrapped in a black plastic garbage bag. From past experience we surmised the package contained one of her treasured weavings. We are aware of her struggle with aging, vision problems and arthritis, and wondered what the quality of weave might or might not be.

Mary Black with her Turtle and Textile Basket
Mary Black with her Turtle & Textile Basket.

Mary has graced us with so many wonderful baskets through the years that we feel emotionally attached and financially obligated to support her, no matter what. On rare occasion we have purchased a less than perfect creation and stowed it away just to help her help us maintain the art, thereby prolonging her enduring creativity. Amazingly, our customers have knowingly purchased those same weavings to support Mary and us.

Steve and I were unconsciously drawn toward Mary as she drew the basket from its less than glamorous wraps. We looked at each other in pleasant surprise as Mary uncovered an extremely well-made Turtle and Textile design basket. The representation was clear, and the pattern was precise, balanced and symmetrical. It was beautiful!

Being the born skeptics we truly are, and since the weaving was the best we had seen from Mary in a very long time, Steve and I internally began to question its origin. We looked at each other warily, wondering if this might not be a true Mary Holiday Black creation. Every once in a while, a select few of Mary's extended family will weave a nice basket and deliver it to Mary to sell as her own. This is done to give back to Mary for all the assistance she has provided them over the years. What the Anglo society might perceive as forgery is actually a showing of mutual support in this sometimes slightly divergent society.

Because Mary is closely associated with and experienced in both worlds, she is acutely aware of the discrepancy in cultural perception. She does not feel comfortable about what collectors might perceive as misrepresentation, but must also be sensitive to her extended family. In the culture of the Navajo, family is first and foremost. If you are able to help, financially of otherwise, you do so. When placed in this predicament, Mary will come across as embarrassed and troubled during negotiations. We have learned that this is Mary's way of cluing us into the situation. We have only to ask Mary outright if she is indeed the weaver, she will not mislead us, the forthright questioning gives her the opportunity to be candid. Her inner emotional turmoil will evaporate and we get the straight scoop.

When asked if she had woven this particular basket Mary smiled gaily, as if anticipating our skepticism, looked us squarely in the eyes and said "Aooh", (yes I did!)" Mary told us that it took her six months to weave the basket. She used only the highest quality splits and color coordinated dye lots, waiting until someone could or would take her to a sumac source along the Colorado river to gather materials. Mary told us she never got in a hurry, weaving only when she felt strong and confident.

At one point in her career Mary would weave eight to twelve hours a day. She is older now, and more frail, with less strength because of the pain in her hands and joints. Mary is not as visually acute as she once was either, and does not have as much help preparing materials. This is due to the natural dispersion of her immediate family. Weaving this particular basket, a maximum of four hours a day was all she could muster.

After we purchased her basket, Mary told Steve and me she had hitched a ride in with outlaws to sell us her latest treasure and was pressed for time. She explained to us that if we were going to record her thoughts on video we had better get busy. Mary is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge of the weaving arts; her grasp of Navajo culture is vast and her love of myth and legend allows us a rare and insightful view into the world of the Dine'. We hurriedly called Tina and her video camera down from the upstairs Internet inter sanctum, and borrowed Toni from her duties as cashier at the cafe to be our interpreter. The ensuing ten minutes of tape relating the creation of and meaning behind Mary's basket was invaluable, and educational to us all.

Mary Holiday Black is a genuinely pleasant person who leaves behind a wake of goodwill wherever she goes. Mary's obvious sources of joy and happiness are her family and weaving baskets. She, in turn, is our bliss. When it comes to dealing with artists and basket weavers, Mary is our all-time favorite. There are times when Mary's two worlds collide, but striving for cultural awareness helps us all alleviate fender benders. Our casualty insurance is familiarity and understanding.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post