Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rest Easy, My Son

On 8/20/12, one month ago today, I lost my 19 year old son, Neal, to a motorcycle street racing accident. My life will never be the same. I could say all kinds of things here about how parents should never have to bury their kids. How this is the worst possible thing to happen - all of it's true. After a month of having heard & said it all, I'm left with the emptiness of knowing he's never coming home. Ever.

Losing my only child has changed me. A self-described cynic, I have spent the last years shaking my head at people, amazed at the idiots we are. These days, the John Watson quote better speaks my heart: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." 

I went to the grocery store the day after Neal died. I was surrounded by people shopping and standing in line, knowing that not one of them had any idea of my pain. Which meant that I had no idea of theirs. Something like unconditional love for humanity, for our flawed and fragile selves, overcame me. In that moment, I knew that if even one person in that store was feeling even a fraction of the pain I was feeling, I'd better be gentle.  I forgave us, me - so caught up in daily life that it takes a slap by the hand of God to get our attention.

I sleep in his room. In his bed. I no longer wake only to remember that he is gone. I know it the moment I open my eyes. Some days, it fills me with such grief that I'm crying before I turn off the alarm. Other days, I say hello to his room, his big-ass TV, his clean shirts hanging in the closet, his painfully empty shoes. Then I start another long day.

My days are filled with questions. Where are you? Are you safe? At peace? Are you near me? Can you hear me when I talk to you? When I grieve out loud at your graveside? Will I ever see you again? A quiet inside voice tells me that he's safe. At peace. With me. With us.

I face a life that is suddenly very different. For nearly 20 years, I have poured myself into raising this child. Most of the time it was just the two of us. His toothless, dimpled smile made me forgive all men and I was healed by his presence. His birth changed my life. His death changed it again.

I need a new purpose, a new direction for my love and energy. A Neal Burlington Race Fund has captured my imagination. My mission is not to get kids off of their bikes. That's never going to happen. Racers gonna race. I want to launch an effort to get street racers off of the streets and onto the track. Track racing takes place in a controlled environment. There are no oncoming cars and no telephone poles. One killed my son. The other seriously injured his friend, Justin.

In 1989, after a premonition of his own death, my brother Russell, an avid street racer, left the streets and signed up for the Penguin Racing School, held monthly at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. For the next 5 years, the entire Burlington family was involved in Russell's racing. I worked the motorcycle safety crew as a corner worker. Mom manned the stop watch. Dad the grill. Rain or shine, our family & friends camped, cooked, laughed, made fun of each other and watched Russell & his crazy friends zoom around that track. Our family relationships thrived. We developed life long friendships with other racers & their families. Our loyal participation kept Russell safe.

Stay tuned for the next leg of my journey as I face life without my only child, Neal Michael Burlington. He was born on May 4, 1993 to a single mom, searching for meaning. He died on August 20, 2012, leaving behind a single mom searching for new meaning. Rest easy, my sweet boy. I love you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Help Wanted. Sort of.

Hiring is one of my least favorite things to do. Inviting a stranger into our tight-knit world is a crap-shoot. We went through 5 studio assistants in 2010. Two quit. Three were fired. Having people quit sucks. Firing people really sucks. It makes us question our judgement. In almost every case, I could have predicted their demise after a week. That's about how long it takes for some to realize that what we do here is work. The fact that we're dressed down, listening to music and laughing - that's the window dressing. Behind the curtain, we're on a mission: Paint, glaze, fire, pack and ship as fast as possible. Many days, we drag ourselves out of here. We're hot, tired, sweaty and gratified in a 'we just kicked ass' kind of way.

Working at Museware Pottery is possibly one of the coolest jobs ever. We're wicked busy and the work just keeps coming. Write those 50 cursive platters and here come 50 more. Stamp out all those plates then turn to find another pile waiting for you. Empty those blazing kilns and load them again while they're still hot. Then do it all again - oh, and faster please?

We need help and have for months. We put it off because training a new employee is time consuming, expensive and disruptive. Did I mention disappointing? We finally gave in last week and ran an ad. Our application doesn't ask where you worked and when. Filling it out is more like on-line dating than applying for a job. We ask who you are, what you care about, why you want to work here. What we really want to know is - can we trust you? Will you fit in? Will you work out or break our hearts?

We'd like to start interviewing next week. We like this local gal. Her natural hand writing looks like ours, she's artsy and articulate. Her application was thoughtfully completed, her plans open enough to include us. If the stars align, she'll become an important part of team and we'll wonder how we lived without her. For The Women of Museware Pottery, training a new employee is like starting a new relationship. Everyone's all excited and hopeful. Finding the right combination of heart, determination and creative thinking in our new hire, well that will be kind of like falling in love. Only different.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Inside Our Studio

Our studio is in a battered historic mill in downtown Manchester, NH. This mixed use mill is the home of an eclectic group of other creatives - jewelry, mixed media art, quilting, cabinet makers, musicians & recording studios. Dozens of light industrial business operate here as well - machine shops, printers, cabinet suppliers, telecommunications suppliers, more.

We share our corner of the block with World Packaging. A busy day for WPI involves power jacks towing 50+/- pallets up and down a wrecked wood hallway, honking as they pass our door. We often have to ask callers to repeat conversations. WPI is headed up by David - a smart, energetic & noisy ball of New Jersey. His assembly line business is all about faster, faster. It's common to hear him clapping and bellowing at his temporary and largely Cambodian workforce. Come on! Clap Clap Clap. Let's go! He also loves talking business and has inspired us to make major cost saving changes to our own production line. We raise a glass of beer to you, Mr. Harp.

Our space is awesome. One of the things that makes it awesome is this kiln room. This 31' long, totally brick space is only 8' wide, exactly wide enough to work. It tapers down to a 5' hallway just beyond the kilns. We just had a brand-new big-ass whole-house fan installed in the window. That thing moves some air, keeping it below 90* in there. A veritable autumn zephyr.

In our old space, the 3 kilns fired right in the production area. They automatically shut off when they reach 1835* but not before heating the room up to 115-120*. We joked about working in our underwear, but it wasn't a joke. When temperatures soared, we locked ourselves in and took it all off.

Faced with the prospect of 100* indoor temps for the 6th summer in a row, we finally hired someone to install two A/Cs. We lost the fabulous light from this 5' square window, but gained the ability to wear clothing at work. Sincere thanks to Tom Hopkins, the Macgyver of carpentry and of just about everything else.

This is a late afternoon shot of our production area. The new light is a bit artful we think. The entrance to our kiln room is hidden beyond the forested veranda surrounding Nicole's desk.

Our studio is a place of music, conversation and laughter. We are part of a small & growing handful of women working and creating in the noisy, dusty maze of Manchester Mills. We humanize the place, encouraging (with the stink-eye) men to close and lock the unisex bathroom door behind them. A few even look sheepish when we hear them use language we're guilty of using ourselves. Last week, one fast moving pallet ripped the corner off of our newly installed exterior wainscoting. We were 100% sure this was going to happen. Because everyone knows you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Museware Pottery Women

Here are three of the five Museware Pottery Women. That's Sara on the left, Nicole in the middle and me on the end. People think MP is all about me - I am the owner & designer. I'm the one they interview. True, everything about MP, the designs, the site, the marketing - comes from me. But I'm not doing the work. The real workers are The Women.

Nicole has been with me for nearly 5 years. My partner & I hired her back in 2003 to manage our first paint your own pottery studio, You're Fired. Years later when we'd both moved on, the pieces clicked - I needed to replace a key employee and Nicole needed a job.

We're both Aries. We sing. We talk. We dance. We tell stories. We get wicked excited about stuff. Nicole is much easier to get along with that me. She's accommodating. Organized. Linear. I'm bossy and eccentric. Like many creatives, I come with a head full of big ideas, tons of creative energy and the attention span of a fruit fly. Nicole is my rock. And no, you cannot have her.

Sara Louise (affectionately called SaraJane) is our youth. She joined the MP family almost 2 years ago. We snagged her from a national craft chain where she'd worked the early morning shift receiving & stocking for nearly 3 years. You know how hard it is to hire young people who know how to work? It's taken a couple of years and a lot of responsibility to hone her into the gem she is now. We're proud of our little Sara. You can't have her, either.

Missing from this photo are two important cogs in our pottery machine. We affectionately call cursive artist Jill "Ninja" because she quietly slips in out of the studio like stealth painter. Her lovely & nearly flawless cursive has spelled out the invitations and favorite songs of many newly married couples & families. She's also a skilled graphic designer and has her hands on our upcoming catalog. We don't scare her one bit.

Our bookkeeper, Karol Carroll, who we always call KarolCarroll, comes in once a week. She pays our bills, takes care of payroll and other hateful bookkeeping tasks like taxes. When those miserable state of NH forms come in, she fills them out, hands them to me for signature and then mails them. She's like a fricken angel.

Also missing but forever in our minds is Leslie. Leslie was our third leg for years, cheerfully answering the phone, handling cumbersome order entry and even unloading and sorting kilns. She was also the only one who ever cleaned the refrigerator. Family called her home, but they won't keep her forever. We miss you, Leslie.

We are The Women. We used to be the Wicked Crafty Yankee Chicks, but we've grown up. Collectively, we've turned Museware Pottery into an industry leader. We've survived those terrible & clueless first years, a misguided move and even the devastating effect of the 2008 bank failures on the giftware industry. We've streamlined production, automated ordering and reduced our lead time. We are strong. We are invincible. We are The Women.

Hear us roar :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Goodbye, Opinionated Broad

Inspired by a friend's blog and subsequent fame, I started OOAB in October 2008. Thinking I'd spend a few minutes a day on it, I soon found it consuming my days and nights. I lost momentum in 2009, but not before writing posts that continue to entertain me today. Is it PC to laugh at your own jokes? 'Cause I do. Laugh. 

Today, I find myself with 8 blogs. They all contain different content and nearly all are in a state of chronic neglect. So when I decided to blog to my retailers & social media followers, I returned to my roots. Opinions of a Broad is filled with true stories of  my past life, peppered with occasional good writing & often bad language.  There are many more stories - unwritten but ready for the telling. While I'm waiting for the words, I'll tell the stories of my current life, which evolve around my work, a handful of awesome and loyal employees and the MP customers and fans, who give us purpose.