Forklift Problems

About this time a year ago I was preparing to move into my first solo studio/brick and mortar space, Press Shop

I had found the space by calling a leasing number on sign in a window in Virginia Highlands. That person told me they didn't have anything in my budget, but I should call the guy who leased The Jane (for you Atlantans - that's the home of Octane Eastside). The landlord at The Jane called back and told me that again, I didn't have the right budget - but he might have something else that would work for me. I met him two hours later at an abandoned warehouse off Dekalb Avenue. 

His pitch was simple, "You'll have to have some imagination." He wasn't kidding. I walked into the abandoned-looking building to find that it was, indeed, abandoned on the inside as well. Piles of old, broken cabinets littered the interior offices. Graffiti covered several walls. Dismembered light fixtures hung by fraying cords from the ceiling and the two garage/loading doors in the front boasted a couple of broken window panels taped up with cardboard. The whole warehouse was probably about six-thousand square feet, and he was willing to rent me a four-hundred square foot corner of it.

Apparently, that's what $800 a month gets you in Atlanta. 

Despite delivering the least appealing sales pitch in history, Landlord was in luck. I actually do have an imagination. He was willing to set up a meeting between myself and his contractor so that we could discuss clearing debris from the front corner of the building and constructing new walls to define my "suite." He would cover the cost of that basic build-out, but I was supposed to let him know if I had any additional desires so that we could negotiate whether or not he'd cover those too. I promised him that I am one simple, no-frills kind of lady and that I was sure my needs would be standard, if not less than.

All I cared about was getting a climate controlled space with level, smooth floors and doors that made an opening wider than 40 inches. That's all you care about when you have letterpresses.

I told Landlord I'd think about his offer, and my husband and I left for a three-week vacation to Europe. I feel like that's a critical part of this story, because there's a good lesson in it: Anything seems possible when you're traveling.* 

*I think it's worth noting that this statement directly contradicts the advice I once got from my former boss: "Don't make any big decisions on an airplane." Somehow I keep doing exactly that. Oh well.

We walked into dozens of teensy European boutiques and cafes in ancient, cracked buildings with dirty concrete floors and broken plaster walls and it all seemed so charming. The decay was part of the ambiance. The ability to thrive in tiny spaces seemed like an enviable virtue.

I stared existentially out of the windows of taxis and trains and thought to myself: You determine your future. You can do it. You can make it work.

I sent Landlord an email at the tail end of our trip, from an Airbnb in London, telling him I was in. And that I would need that meeting with his contractor as soon as I got home. When you live your life on the bi-seasonal schedule of baseball, you only ever have three (maybe four) months to get your home life in order before it's time to leave again.

So it happened. I met with the contractor, designed the space, told him where I'd like my outlets and requested a giant window be cut out of the brick facade of the building so that I could properly color-match and mix inks. Oh, I'm sorry, does that sound like a dealbreaker? Yea, it did. So Landlord and I went twelve rounds in the ring about whether or not I could cut into the front of the warehouse (my argument was that nothing could possibly make the building worse) and somehow I felt like the victor when we walked away agreeing that I could get the guys to cut a window, but I would cover the cost myself - a bill upwards of four thousand dollars. But I don't have to tell you creative folks that ample natural light is worth a lot more than four grand, yea?

Before construction even started, I moved my then-homeless letterpresses into another corner of the abandoned warehouse - just to chill until their home was ready. The freight company brought them down from North Carolina, wrapped up in plastic and sitting on pallets, plopped them in the warehouse and left. They told me I could move the presses with a pallet-jack when I was ready. 

Then, I waited.

I spent about two months watching construction slowly chug along at the warehouse while I worked out of a spare bedroom in our house. I had lots of time to plan what kind of furniture we'd build, what kind of light fixtures we'd order and how we would organize all my stuff. It was wonderful and terrible. I had made a very large, very expensive decision very quickly and then was left to spend eight weeks pondering whether or not I could actually pull it off.

Could I make rent? What if I got robbed? Did I need insurance on the space? Were there secret city permits I had to apply for? Why didn't anyone at the Secretary of State office know about permits for printing businesses? Should I call again? What if we lifted the presses and they broke? Did I know how to fix a broken press? How do you lift a press again?

That's when it hit me, late one night in mid-sleep. I was terrified of moving the presses. There were lots of things I was scared about, but I fixated on that one. I kept imagining the guys who work at Home Depot, driving around on their lumber cars (whatever they're called) moving piles of wood around the store. Was I supposed to drive the lumber car? What if I crashed it? Where do you get one?

As we neared the date to move into the space, the knot in my stomach about moving the presses slowly grew. Collin (my husband) and I made plans to set everything up before he left for Spring Training so that I could have his help. I asked him a million times if he was sure he could use a pallet-jack and he assured me it would be okay. I had my doubts.

The day of the move, he left to go to Home Depot to rent the pallet-jack and a truck to bring it to the studio. It was only when he showed up with the machine that I realized I had made a mistake. I saw the pallet-jack and asked, "What the heck is that?"

"A pallet-jack."

"I thought a pallet-jack was like the lumber cars they drive around at Home Depot."

"No babe. That's a forklift."

Oh. There you go. I was half right: it would have been very complicated to rent a forklift, put it in a truck, bring it to the warehouse and drive it around inside a 400 square foot studio. The good news was that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. All I needed was a pallet jack - basically a glorified scooter.

That's really the funniest thing about starting a business and becoming even marginally successful - it looks like you know everything.

It seems like you must have figured out the recipe to the secret sauce because MAN, you found a space and had it built-out just for you and bought equipment and ordered furniture. Only smart, prepared people can take those risks, right? To that, all I have to say is LOL. A big old LOL.

Y'all - I didn't even know that a pallet-jack isn't a forklift.

In the year since moving in, I've learned that I really did have bigger fish to fry than simply moving my presses. I had a lot to learn about being an artist, a boss, a wife, a friend and a mom. I had to let a lot of my expectations go. I had to move backwards in a lot of places because I had moved forward so fast in getting my space. It's been paralyzingly stressful at times and also a lot of fun. I'm incredibly lucky that making and fixing my own mistakes is my job.

Now, when I'm stressed about something looming in my future, I sit for a moment and ask myself, "What if this is just a forklift problem? Maybe you think it's huge and it's really just not. Maybe you just don't know what you're talking about." I've found that most problems (save death and taxes) are forklift problems.

Ultimately, the solution to almost anything is to just pick up what's heavy and
start moving it.


I Can't Give You The Rules

I've been in business for six years. That's long enough to feel like a seasoned professional some days and still a total disaster most other ones. It's long enough to have established a routine, but not quite long enough to know if it's ever going to "click" the way you'd like. 

I'm still impulsive some days - walking through Binders, picking up any art supply that looks mildly interesting, bringing it back to my studio to see what I can make happen.

I still make big and complicated and beautiful things that I think are my "best work ever," only to finish and sell zero. Yes, I often sell zero things. 

If I have a system or a preference or a plan, it's a mystery to me. I just do the next right thing - most of the time I just have to assess the current situation and do whatever I think will work best this time.

I am an honest, open person. I strive to be honest about the struggles of my lifestyle and I enjoy hearing other people's stories. I know that openness can be rare - and especially in some industries it can feel like people are so closed off (or competitive), it's impossible to just make a genuine connection. I don't want to be that way - I like connections.

I also get lots of questions. Lots of emails. I get asked for advice. I don't mind hearing from people at all, but it is a little funny to be asked for advice when the message you try to repeat is "it's okay guys, I don't know either!" Hah. Most of the time I just shake my head and think... "I still don't know, y'all." 

I was sitting at a coffee shop with a friend this past week and we were talking about THE RULES.

The rules of life. The guidelines that tell you how to do it right. The things that prevent you from wasting money, making mistakes and failing at something you're excited to pursue. She confided in me that she's always really loved the rules - she's always wanted the "how to" instructions first, so that she could be sure she would be doing things properly.

I countered that I never grew up that way. I would look at my mom and say, "hey, I really want to do this thing, but I don't know how." She would respond, "you'll figure it out." She modeled that for me daily in her own life. She was a contractor - she would look at a space, ponder what she wanted to do, buy materials, start trying, realize there was a problem, buy different materials, go back, figure it out and finish. Her goal wasn't to avoid the struggle of the process - her only goal was to make sure that she finished, and finished well. Her standards for herself were, and are, extremely high. I watched her cuss and swear at plaster and screws and nail guns my whole life. I watched her walk away for a minute and stare and think and then come back, ready to try again. I've had the pleasure to live amongst the things she's made, sewn, built and grown my whole life. Now that she's an old lady (hah) she's decided to go back to school for massage therapy - a separate passion/interest that she is tackling at 56 years old. She's still figuring it out, and her expectations of herself are still high.

You'd think a woman like that would have had so much advice to share - so many rules and tips to relate. But I really didn't get many - all I got was support. She somehow knew that whatever I approached in life or work would be uniquely mine, and that no one's direction can really guarantee you a destination. You just have to keep observing the situation at hand, thinking critically and pressing forward. You just have to keep doing the next right thing.

My friend and I both agreed that after trekking through this much life, we realize there really aren't rules. The how-to's don't work for everyone. No two journeys are the same. Craving rules is human nature, but there is no advice you can really give except to "let go or keep trying." It's uncomfortably vague, but incredibly true. 

In business, it seems there could be a formula to follow, but there still isn't.

There is education. There are lots of educators. They host workshops and lectures and websites. They dedicate their time to explaining concepts to people, coaching them through the unknown territory. They charge for their services, and they should. If you care about your business, it will ask you to put your money where your mouth is. I've paid (and do pay) for education and I've never, ever regretted it. 

There are friends. You'll get grouped up on a project and just VIBE with someone! They'll laugh at your jokes, you'll split a bag of Doritos and wonder how you've never met before then. You'll genuinely enjoy their company and occasionally meet for coffee, and the things you talk about over lattes will influence and change and shape your business as a side-effect. You'll rant about your frustrations and they'll give you their input because they care about you. You'll be stuck in a bind and they'll give you all the tips they can think of - because they like you. If you don't currently have any work friends, leave your comfort zone. Make one. They're amazing.
(As a tip, I wouldn't pursue a work friendship with the ulterior motive of getting help or tips or perks from it. People can tell when you're doing that, and its not the best. I've done that to people and I looked (and felt) like a horse's ass. It's not the way to go.)

There is Google. If you google "pink twine," Google will tell you where to buy it. If you Google "what is a registered agent?" it will explain it to you. If you Google "Georgia sales and use tax" it will give you a link to a government website that will take you to an FAQ that will take you to a contact page that will give you a phone number where someone will (maybe) answer and tell you how to set up your account. We are an incredibly privileged generation in the sense that we are left wanting for no information. Literally anything is accessible to us via the internet. It can be difficult to understand or navigate, but it's there. Having a business is 10% knowing how to do something and 90% learning how to do new things.

And most importantly, there is YOU. Your brain. Your creativity. Your ideas. Your experiments. Give yourself permission to trust your instincts. Give your permission to chase a wild idea. Give yourself permission to go to a networking event and share stories because you're worth getting to know. Give yourself permission to try and fail without being a failure. Developing a process is a constant game of trial and error - failing at one attempt is just the education you need to try the next attempt. I know this sounds like a motivational speech, but I sincerely know it to be true. Failure is the process. It's experience-based research. You WILL survive the wrongs if you use them to get it right.

The only situation in which that won't be true is if you don't really care. If that's the case, all the rules and how-to's won't change a thing. If you refuse to quit, you will figure it out. 

you will figure it out.

This is a weird analogy, but this concept always makes me think of cutting open a cucumber. Once, I sliced open a fresh cucumber in front of my grandfather. We simultaneously said "mmm" and "ewwww." I looked at him and said, "fresh cucumber is literally the best smell in the world to me." He replied, "I think it disgusts me more than anything else." Nobody was wrong - nobody was right. The smell of fresh cucumber is scientifically one thing. But in that moment, it was the best... and simultaneously the worst. How insanely unique and special is it to be an individual with a preference? How could I possibly tell another person what their preference should be?

I just want to let you know - if you email me with questions about what nibs I like best or what helped improve my calligraphy the fastest or basically: can you take your journey and your preferences all your failures and condense them into an anti-struggle guidebook for me? I can go ahead and give you the answer: No, because I am not you. My directions won't guarantee you a destination. But I really believe you'll figure it out.

The auto responder on my email should read: "Currently I am busy failing, cry-laughing with my friends and figuring it out."


This is me, failing and figuring it out with my friend Liz. Who absolutely would attest to doing the same thing.

This is me, failing and figuring it out with my friend Liz. Who absolutely would attest to doing the same thing.