2018 in Review

This was the year of peanuts, sustainable loops, and growing pains. It was the year I got a therapist on my own (using my own healthcare benefits). It was the year I approached daily routines with reverence and geekery. It was the year I gave up cooking. And it was the year that I solidified some of the greatest friendships I’ve ever had. Probably the best way to illustrate all of the changes that happened is to tell you three stories. 

Near the beginning of the year, my friends took me out to see a punk rock show. I was anxious about it, since I usually get incredibly sad at these events for unknown reasons. But I joined them anyway, hoping that this time would be different. It wasn’t. I sat in the back of the venue, watching from a distance, and my friends occasionally looked over their shoulders from the front row to see if I was still there. I texted them to tell them that I was too sad to enjoy myself, so I went outside to smoke my way through a pack of cigarettes. 

I had a list of things I was supposed to do when I felt like hurting myself. So I called a friend and ate pizza alone across the street. “Contact loved ones”, “Be in a public place”. When the show was over, my friends dropped me off at home. They went out to continue dancing and I slept. This night was important to me because it was one of the first times I consciously made steps to be better than I had been. I remember it because I was hurting so much, but had managed to change my behavior in order to take care of myself. 

The second story is about work.  Along with my 9-5 day job, I would side-hustle all the time. I conducted interviews with my entrepreneurial friends and posted them on my blog. I started a Patreon to give out business advice. I did a little bit of personal assistant work for whoever needed it. I tried to monetize everything that I enjoyed, hoping that I could make a career out of my pastimes. And as a result, I exhausted myself. 

I legitimately forgot how to relax and have fun. Fatigue and depression hit me hard as I realized that I was working myself to the bone and not really getting anything out of it. I met some incredible people and had phenomenal conversations. I built my community to be the best that it could be. But I lost weight that I couldn’t afford to lose, I spent too much money since I was never home, and I never really had time to do the thing I liked most: read for reading’s  sake. 

An idea continued to pop up in my twitter, retweeted by people I respected: do less. I realized that I had been suckered into a weird, unfulfilling loop of trying to cheat my way into a good career by overworking myself. I kept on hearing “the only way to have more free time is to do less” and it stuck with me because I knew it was true. Only recently had I come to terms with the fact that I would need to stop trying to do everything. I toned down my blogging, I let certain projects go, and surprisingly there were no angry mobs pounding on my door, asking for my time. I was able to fade away. 

The last story is about friendship. To be honest, it is a culmination of one hundred stories that happened this year, a montage of my friends being kind to me even when I felt I did not deserve it. But in the interest of brevity, I will try and pick just one. 

In therapy, I often get anxious and sad to the point of nausea. When I am at my worst, my therapist hands me a wastepaper basket and I gag, sob, and spit, wishing I could somehow vomit up whatever is making me feel horrible. One day, after therapy, I returned home feeling a bit like a ghost. My housemates were hanging out in a bedroom, and I entered, puffy-eyed and distraught. Not knowing what to do, and for the most part at the mercy of my emotions, I broke down and told them what I was dealing with, why my heart was hurting, and how I felt. Unsure of what to do, E passed me a wastepaper basket for me to dry heave into as I cried. I took deep breaths and eventually composed myself, and when I looked up and my friends were still there. 

I don’t know where I got this fear, the fear that if I cried in front of my friends they would disappear. Seeing that they were still around, and still my friends, did something profound in my heart. It is hard to describe, but I think that I mostly felt recognized, appreciated, and understood. J shifted in his seat. “Connor, I am super glad you opened up to us just now. But I also have to let you know… my edible just hit and this is fucking crazy.” 

We laughed about this for a really long time. Over and over again I had these experiences, where I would hit my lowest points and my friends, instead of ridiculing me, were kind. 

I ended 2018 much better than when I started. I am still not good at saving money. I am not a better cook. But I am more equipped to handle my depression, and I feel lucky to have such close friends that care about me as much as they do. 

I am so tired. I am twenty-five and my mentors tell me that I still have a whole life ahead of me, which sounds daunting. If 2018 was about repair, I want 2019 to be about rest, anonymity, and solace. Knowing myself, I am not sure if I will ever be able to curb my ambition, my curiosity, and my tendency to bite off more than I can chew. If I cannot change these hard-earned character traits, perhaps I can find quieter ways to apply them. In the same way D’Angelo took a fourteen-year hiatus between albums, I find myself also wanting a dormant period of that same amount of time. 

Right now I am in my bedroom, sitting in my reading chair. The weather is classic Seattle: cloudy and rainy. I spent the morning tidying up my room, cleaning my bedsheets, and slowly drinking my coffee until it went cold. More of this please, I think to myself. I want more of this in 2019. 


You can check out a Google Photo Album of my 2018 highlights here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/sG1sL8fboycccxFt5

MarninSaylor & Their Pastry Pets

Skye Saylor and Thomas Marnin make Pastry Pets, handmade toys borne from an imaginary world and sold at Seattle’s world-famous Pike Place Market. Their dream: A brick and mortar storefront of their own, chock full of a diverse assortment Pastry Pet products.

“Some people just don’t get it,” says Saylor. At face value, the toys are quiet odd without context. They are small plushies in the shapes of pastries. But they’re cats. It all started when Saylor posted a photo of her first Donut Cat creation on Facebook. Comments of “I want one!!” flooded in. Eventually, she teamed up with Marnin to build a booth and try their hands at selling some of their toys at a craft fair in Seattle in September of 2013. Almost a year later, the duo went full time as “MarninSaylor”.

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“The magic of toys is built from the experience attached to it,” says Marnin. “Like, think about how kids won’t hesitate to buy a ‘Frozen’ doll or coloring book. The difference with our toys is that we have to build that experience from scratch.” This experience is their booth at Pike Place Market. Dressed vintage soda-fountain attire, the team stays in character for full retail theater implemented within eight square feet.

I can’t help but ask “Why Pastry Pets?” and Saylor’s response: why not? “We’re selling a piece of a world that we want you to be a part of.” This world, as it turns out, runs deep. Marnin & Saylor gave me a tour of their manufacturing studio in SoDo, and I saw firsthand that they make a LOT of stuff. From tote bags to keychains to limited edition Pizza Cat plushies, their product selection paired with their idea lists and prototypes make for a dizzying collection of toys.

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Though the world is whimsical, painfully cute, and magical, the realities of making and selling Donut Cats can often be brutal. “I think the biggest mistake that creators can make is thinking that success comes easy,” says Marnin. “Every day is a huge challenge, and we have to work very hard to make sure the business doesn’t fail.” Working hard means taking two days off a month and spending the rest of the time manufacturing in their studio in order to make sure they’re stocked for Pike Place Market. In such a fast-paced and bustling environment, many new retailers in the Market can’t keep up with the heavy foot traffic of this Seattle landmark.

But, Marnin & Saylor have high hopes for the future of their business. “We probably have 300 core fans, plus a rotating fanbase of about 1,000,” says Saylor. The customer  feedback on their products is overwhelmingly positive, and there is clearly demand for the company’s story and brand. The team has been eyeing locations for their brick and mortar store, but it is becoming a game of timing and numbers. “Something is going to have to change in the business in the next year,” says Marnin. Exactly what kind of change is still unclear. But until then, MarninSaylor is bringing a surplus of enthusiasm, creativity, and cuteness to the Market.

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Left to right, Thomas Marnin & Skye Saylor.


You can find more Pastry Pets at http://www.marninsaylor.com/

Betty Putnam (Taxidermist)

Betty has known for a long time that she wanted to work with animals, though it wasn’t always clear that she’d end up working with dead ones. “Ever since I was five years old, I wanted to be a vet,” she tells me over coffee. Originally from Bradford Pennsylvania, Betty was surrounded by people who loved to hunt. “I was sort of the odd one out.”

Her career path was extremely focused and her goals were clear. She worked with animals as much as possible through internships and job shadowing. In Washington, she worked on a goat farm and is a current volunteer in the ornithology department of the Burke Museum. “I had always been around taxidermy but had never thought about the process. Like I always saw them at wildlife exhibits and was always intrigued by it.”

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For Betty, getting on Instagram was a turning point. While she was doing active research in her field, she slowly realized that Instagram held valuable information for her journey. There, she saw other women working in taxidermy, and through further research she was able to see all the prep and the schooling that went into it. “There are ladies in Los Angeles and New York doing this kind of thing,” she tells me, referring to city-based taxidermy. “If they can do it, I can totally do it.”

Next, she placed a deposit a year in advance for a taxidermy school she found in Montana. Betty looked at a number of schools within driving distance of Washington, and this particular one met all her criteria. “It worked for my time frame, they taught what I wanted to learn, and I didn’t have to bring anything with me.”

Today, she is fully educated, licensed, and ready to work. During our interview, she pulls out two books, “Tax Savvy for Small Business” and “The Breakthrough Business Management Manual”. She picks up the latter and laughs. “This one is incredible because it’s specifically for taxidermy.” I flip through the book and sure enough it is. From marketing to budgeting to time frames, the author outlines the ins and outs of this incredibly niche industry.

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“It’s definitely a risk doing this in the city. If it fails, I’ll move it somewhere else,” she tells me. Betty finds herself interested in both the craft and the science of taxidermy. She shows me the work of Allis Markham, which reads a little more glamorous than the kind of work she’d be doing. Her clientele would mainly be hunters, and she plans to visit sporting clubs in the Seattle area once she’s established to network and promote her services.

Currently, she is preparing her workshop, a small studio space located behind an interior design storefront. She shows me her logos and tells me that she has a “low-key business plan”. Funding is one of her primary obstacles, but she believes that she can find investors that she has personal relationships with to get roughly $5,000 for initial expenses.

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Betty asks me about other people I’ve interviewed, and I tell her about the other young business folks in my network. The difference between Betty and most of the others I’ve spoken with is that she has really honed in her skill and her niche before marketing. With other entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed a common trend of excellent and tremendous marketing with little to no business plan backing it. I believe there are benefits to both approaches, but Betty definitely sits on an advantage – she provides a clear service with proper legal backing to a specific audience. For her, marketing will be a clear path.

Her advice to other small business owners: stay positive. “One of my mentors told me that if you can’t get your mind right, you’re not going to produce any good work. It’s hard and you will have ‘oh fuck’ days, but the key is to let that day happen and not let it turn into an ‘oh fuck’ week.”