Tuesday, October 16, 2018

the many layers of selling wellness

Here at the farm in my newly dusted off fortress-of-solitude office I holler up to the roof where we keep a menagerie of chipmunks enslaved, running on hamster wheels next to the satellite dish that communicates with the world wide web. (Who said I was against the exploitation of free labor?) FASTER CHIPMUNKS! I shout out the window so as to get the webpage of GOOP to load, with its confetti of landing page videos and oscillating tight-faced garden vegetable eating white women.

I have journeyed to the mecca of web wellness this morning because I've just gotten off the phone with Susan, my mother, the soapmaker. News from wholesale soap headquarters: Goop is driving her crazy. Like any large corporate entity with a complex shipping warehouse, Goop is extremely particular about how our soap is labeled and shipped to their warehouse. They require that we print a specific label - in yellow ink only - on each box of soap that we ship them. One thing about my mother - she does not like waste - and she's throwing out perfectly good inkjet cartridges left and right.

A larger company might buy a printer that has individual colored ink cartridges. And a larger company might accept Goop's new terms - they notified Susan this week that they would only be paying 45% of our suggested retail price instead of the standard 50%. This is the real reason Susan called this morning - would we concede to this demand? Goop has major market influence and right now I'm working to expand the soapmaking operation to help fund our work here at Worlds End. If there's one entity I won't compromise with it's a corporate bully. I call Susan back and tell her to pull the account.

To be frank, I enjoyed my deep dive into Goop. I discover a lot of interesting content about exercises to tighten my pelvic floor for stronger orgasms and drinking collagen for nicer skin. Which means I'm looking for better orgasms or nicer skin? Am I? Here in lies the trouble with goop and the wellness industry as a whole -- it thrives on people feeling un-well in order to profit. It needs people to feel lousy and it thrives on a sense of not good enough. 

But theres a deeper problem that underpins all of that, and it has to do with the way women are with each other.

Over the summer Taffy Brodessor Anker wrote a profile about Goop and it's founder Gwenyth Paltrow. In it she spends considerable time comparing herself (they're the same age, they both have two children, etc) to Paltrow. Anker is a great writer but I was so disappointed by the level of self deprecation she employes to be funny and make her point. We read about her giant feet compared to Gwenyth's Barbie-like toes, and we read a painful comparison of her children to Apple and Moses. At the end of the piece she devolves into a excruciating account of hustling through LAX to get home to her own life.

I'm tired of this brand of insidious female comparison masked as self deprecating humor. It makes me feel sad. It perpetuates the deep seeded mythology that constantly calls for women to be small, humble, non-threatening and well liked. There is too much comparison and judgement that occurs between women. It wastes time and keeps us from our real feminine prowess.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Work table in the studio this afternoon. More words and pictures tomorrow. Realizing tonight that maybe my personal work as a florist is not yet finished. What is it to be a woman in 2018 if not simply to own the ability to change one's mind?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

training Georgio

Georgio, our border collie. Have begun to train him on sheep with Barb Armata who also helped me train Ziggy, may she rest in peace - or better yet, in never ending circles around sheep.
God, I loved that little nut.

Georgio is also called 'Gigi' or sometimes 'Gerome' when Zoe speaks to him in French like she's Celine Dion. He's definitely a male dog, a bit more clumsy than our girls, and rather obvious in his desire for affection. He chases cars, a real problem. When UPS rolls up, this dog jumps into the truck while it's still moving, stands up at the dashboard and looks out the windshield with the driver while Zoe and I run from different sides of the farm screaming NO GEORGI, NO!
The driver (also male) gives him a cookie (!?) and so the cycle continues.

If you want to know what training a border collie is like, imagine a lot of yelling. When I went to my first sheep-working dog trial years ago (as a spectator) I remember laughing with Eric at the intensity of the dog owners. It's a visual manifestation of classic control issues. At my last lesson up on the practice field, after a particularly messy whirlwind of Georgio and two Scottish Blackface sheep, Barb said to me 'Maybe you could try sounding a little less desperate.'

Saturday, October 13, 2018

wedding in Ghent last weekend.

We assembled the dream team last weekend to make a wedding in Ghent for a bride who was lucky enough to pick a weekend when our farm dahlias were peaking and when FedEx didn't fuck up shipments of garden roses from California. It's nice when things go according to plan although I like to think I'm excellent (Bryony arguably better) at troubleshooting when things don't. In another life I'd be an air traffic controller or, the president. War rooms appeal to me for some reason. 

Used mostly all Worlds End flowers, bought in roses (Rose Story farm in CA this time) and imported Japanese delphinium because we needed that specific blue and were hard pressed to have anything blue here this time of year. That Japanese delphinium is incredibly delicate looking but hardy as all get out - lasts 2 weeks in a vase. You pay the price; $7.50 a stem. 

Hydrangea are still going gang busters here; we had to buy some new shrubs to use in an installation to spruce up a portable bathroom trailer (rest assured theres a whole post coming next week on bathroom trailer decor - also is that my book deal angle?) this is exciting because they'll get planted now here at Worlds End and make us even richer in the hydrangea department. Too much is not enough. I avoid 'pinky winky' - that pointy hussy of a popularity contest now in garden centers and prefer for a good old 'quickfire' (shown above) or 'tardiva' or even better 'invincible spirit.'

'Love in a puff' vine (cardiosperum), nicotiana (can't tell you the variety, they're all Worlds End hybrids at this point in our field, showing up as volunteers season to season) chocolate cosmos - our best crop yet, celosia, porcelain berry, oakleaf hydrangea leaves which look like leather. 

God bless Danica Designs in Maine for keeping us in all the colors of taper candles we could ever need -- this color is called 'honey.'

They look nice, and they are. Lucky to work with such talent, always.

Friday, October 12, 2018

another woods walk

Beware: if I ask you to take a walk with me in the woods it means we're either having a heavy conversation about life patterns and the state of the world or I’m trying to make out with you. Admittedly, it's usually the former. Jennell and I went yesterday, the day was long and drawn out -- the very end of a fabled 2018 autumn weekend for us; full of Saipua weddings and our own annual family lamb dinner. We made our feast small this year, keeping with the spirit of the times around here. Most everyone had left and the remaining handful of us were cleaning the last of the dishes with the garden hose in a make shift dish pit, hanging bedsheets from the tipis on the line.

Jennell was our first hired farmer and she has been back at Worlds End visiting. When I started recently to create an DC Comics-like map of all the women in my life who I want to build the future with, Jennell’s superpower is listed as: SENSITIVITY.

We go to the woods and talk about how to take care of ourselves and the pursuit of freedom. We wonder at and bemoan this long labor, littered with incremental successes and failures. We need each other perpetually to remind us that this work is never done, and that there is no arrival to freedom.
Ok, I say, now you tell it to me again.
(Here in lies the importance of sisterhood.)
Can I hold my own pain and struggle at the same time with someone else's?
Let that be a new type of power we summon for the new world order.

The freedom I’m after has no form, no prescriptive path. I can't get it if I'm smart with my money (I'm not) or if I quit my job (tried that). One might think of freedom as liberation or lightness, but I actually think of it as having a lot of weight. The heft of absolute personal responsibility. At some point last year in my contemplation of freedom I read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling which describes anxiety as the realization of one’s own real freedom.
Turns out knowing what one wants and choosing for oneself is quite hard.

Many important life choices are simulated for us. Encoded in the shimmering illusion of choice lie the infinitely complex bastions of culture; religion, fashion, the wellness industry, etc — these forms tell us what we should look like, who to connect with, what to think, what to eat, who to vote for. It is an easier way to be in the world, it's lighter. And it feels safe.  Real freedom is terrifying and dangerous because it opens the chasm of unknown potential.

See you in the woods then.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jennell and Zoe in the field.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

rethinking luxury and the nyc flower market

This is the best time of year for flowers and recently at the farm I fantasized a world for myself where I never stepped foot on 28th street again. For a long time I loved shopping in the wholesale flower district, I felt my community there and loved the hunt. But the parking has become atrocious; as big hotels buy up the block squeezing vendors out and as the big NYC florists buy more and more product directly from South America and Holland there is less commerce for the middle men wholesalers of the industry like Dutch Flower Line and GPage. 

The reality of this is sad - a lot of those vendors have been good friends to me over the years and made Saipua what it is today through their help in sourcing us good product. But the world shifts and some sadness becomes other happiness. The quality and variety of the product in the market has continually declined to a point where the strife of parking and being harassed by construction workers is not worth it.

I like to tell new florists that when I first started shopping the market in 2006 there were garden roses that smelled like perfumed melon shipped in from Garden Valley in Petaluma, CA (now practically defunct) wrapped in small brown paper bunches for sale at Fisher and Page. There were giant stalks of black Angelica for $27.50 a stem. It was a truly luxurious flower world. Now the prices are high but the variety has dried up. It's pedestrian and predictable and no fun anymore.

I like growing my own flowers and I know it makes me and my team better designers.

Lately that's led me to think that maybe we don't need to shop for flowers in the flower wholesale district anymore. It would mean that Saipua would just make flowers between the months of May and October -- the parameters of our growing season here in zone 5 without plastic high tunnels (which I hate.)

But there is something to be said for the importance of marketplace in our lives. It is where ideas and information are exchanged and the community that emerges in them is invaluable. I would miss seeing many of the vendors/workers in the market many of whom have felt like mentors to me. (I won't miss the sexism and racism - both of which are unfortunately still rampant in certain corners of the district.)

We need new paradigms around our notions of work, value and luxury. Luxury has always been linked to those things we do not have; to scarcity. It has been often identified with 'the foreign.' Think about the silk road, the scarcity of red dye, televisions, cellular phones and other technologies...now it's trips to outerspace. 

In certain European cities like Paris and Amsterdam, flowers are brought home with milk and bread daily. In India, flowers are prolific. Here we have not caught on in the same way to the simple pleasure of cut flowers -we keep them relegated to a luxury market (which considers flowers as a special-occasion device, appropriate for weddings, funerals, and the occasional celebration or apology.) Peonies are available in December for $7.50 a stem and get packed into a cube vase for Madison Avenue boutiques to translate luxury. It is a bizarre use of nature.

I used to want to crack the code on art and commerce, now I'd be happy to just redefine the notion of luxury, something which I feel I'm always both courting and rejecting.

Here at the farm we read a lot in the early mornings, sitting around the table together quietly. In the evenings we eat together and discuss ideas about how to make a better future for ourselves and those around us. Living with other adults feels like luxury, we take care of things together and it makes me feel supported in very simple, important ways. We grow a lot of food and flowers and that's very luxurious feeling. 

Now with all my overhead in Saipua consolidated here at Worlds End, I have (at last, at least!?) the luxury of considering all these ideas with a little more freedom.