Creating Compelling Content 101

Yes, it’s a common lament.  I hear this wistful question almost daily. What should I blog about?  What do I have to say? Well, the answer to that question is “plenty.”  The biggest challenge is editing — prioritizing and redefining what makes sense within the context of your brand and your audience engagement strategy.  I recently stumbled across this infographic on the Copyblogger by Danny Iny.  It’s called “22 Ways to Create Compelling Content When You Don’t Have a Clue.”  Love the whimsy of the infographic format as a idea generator. Take a gander. Bet you will be creating in no time!

22-content-suggestions-for-blogs

Believe Them.

angelou2When people show you who they are, believe them.”
~Maya Angelou

This is one of my favorite quotes from the remarkable Maya Angelou.  She expressed so many ideas and notions of the heart with such raw eloquence and clarity. As one who has struggled with clouded filters in my life, this resonates deeply.

Live in authenticity—not to satisfy the expectations of others, nor the perceived expectations of anyone else.  It also means resisting the impulse to change, cajole, alter—or otherwise attempt to “fix” another.  Peacefully release and allow . . .  others to walk their own divine paths.  Easier said than done, right? Instead, you may simply choose a different reality.  Fighting or feeling dismayed gives the recipient of that energy power.  Taking a different path alleviates so much stress and pain.

It is such an essential lesson for productivity, sanity and happiness. And at the core of this awareness is mindfulness.  Marsha Linehan, a noted American psychologist and author, created Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) around this philosophy. It’s a powerful form of psychotherapy that actually combines behavioral science and brain theory with Buddhism  tenets—acceptance, meditation and mindfulness.

In the spirit of our dear Dr. Angelou, who touched so many, we can all seek this state of inner peace and mindfulness—to communicate in truth—internally and externally. To believe in the veracity of what is.  But we cannot if we are not clear— about who we are and how we feel.   This, indeed, is the journey.  In lieu of a mindfulness retreat or a series of therapy sessions with Dr. Linehan, here are a few ways to get a dose of this mindfulness practice:

  • Focus on one thing at a time

Try giving up multitasking occasionally. It exacerbates stress and states of confusion. Handle one thing and one thing only—mindfully in the moment.  Step away from the phone.

  • Do what works

You do not always have to be right— make a statement, issue and edict, or win the war. Don’t cut off your nose despite your face. Think twice before you send that blazing email copying the president.

  • Set achievable goals

Set aside the BHAGS for a while (the big, hairy, audacious goals – as a former boss used to call them).  Focus on the attainable ones. Give yourself some wins!

  • Nurture friends, connections, and support

Build a network. Connections are so important. They give you strength and a soft place to land when you run out of steam and your resources dwindle.  YOU don’t have to be everything to everyone.

  • Exercise

Keep moving. Reduce your physical vulnerability. You know about this one already.

  • Be grateful

Find something to be grateful for every day. It multiplies (even at work).

There are more, but this is a great place to start. Until we understand exactly who we are and how we process stimuli, many of our reactions will be wildcards. This takes work, because so much of our communication is conducted on autopilot—hardwired and subconscious. There are no easy answers, but if we are mindful of our issues, we can begin asking better questions . . . What do you think?

Mindfulness is the Message

timeWhen we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love. – Thich Nhat Hanh

I was chatting with an old pal recently, and he quipped, “You know, Elaine, you seem very high on this social-media-from -inside-out concept.  Perhaps you should focus on that.”  He was referring to empowering internal teams to serve as social media promoters.

Well, I began to ponder it a bit and realized–good idea, but probably easier said than done. I saw a recent Gallup study that indicated more than 85% of employees are unhappy with their current jobs. Employees and managers reported feeling stress or boredom as the two most common experiences throughout the workday. The high cost to employers is absenteeism, burnout, lost productivity and disengagement. Certainly, if your employees are not engaged, they are most likely not going to be the most passionate brand advocates.

So, maybe inside out is the right notion.  But, we must start—not inside the business—but inside each individual.  Satisfaction does not just happen—Mr. Jagger taught us that.  However, many from my friend’s generation might say, “You pay them to make it their business.”  The truth is there appears to be something missing. It’s not something that can be filled in with a couple of posters on the wall, free donuts on Friday, or a holiday potluck.  It requires something deeper and more profound—a deliberate shift in consciousness.

Mindfulness—it’s about being fully present and engaged in the moment and taking responsibility for what’s working, what’s not and your reactions to it. This is the radical personal epiphany I have had in the past six months—which has changed the way I perceive everything.  I think we all exist so much of the time on autopilot—particularly at work. We blame others for our predicaments and often feel powerless. Or, we get into a tragic rhythm of “just getting through the day.”  No wonder we feel cranky and demoralized. Or, we are constantly worrying what else we should be doing at any given point in time. Or, we’re anxious about politics, about what the boss thinks, potential layoffs, the other gal’s promotion— you name it—all things over which we have no control. It’s a recipe for emotional mayhem.

To plug into the creative juice and to joy, we need to cultivate clarity, communication, peace — and consciousness. Plus, a little fun. That may be what Google and Zappos have been able to foster in their environments.

However, the first step is to get clear about who you are. Make sure you know you, what you are about, and what success will look like when you get there. Sounds easy enough, but hey, as my experience has shown, this is probably the hardest part. 

Next post – we’ll review some easy ways to begin living more mindfully. Mindfulness 101 . . . ways to start now. Let me know what you think.

Letting Go.

Roses_3_1.0

“Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.”  

- Voltaire

On Saturday, we honored the memory of Everett E. Gantz Jr. with a quiet, traditional Episcopal memorial service.  After nearly 89 years on this earth, my father was still an enigma to many— and to me in many ways. Few truly knew the man behind the stoic, Midwestern-chiseled facade— and the charismatic artist/wife of more than 50 years.  Thankfully, my dear sister Melissa gave a lovely, instructive “reflection” that filled gaps and hearts.

The loss is palpable—and beginning with my mother’s devastating stroke in January 2010, the grieving process has been a lingering one.

Plus, as a single, working mother of two growing boys, remembering to “put the oxygen mask on first” is a constant effort—and a daily focus of my mindfulness practice. However, I am certainly no role model for the “sandwich generation,” and I guarantee you that I still get tangled up in the roughage, as it were.  Still, I have come to understand that the frustrating stubbornness and vitriol I have encountered on “both sides of the bun” often mask the poignant vulnerabilities that quite frequently melt my heart.

Mastin Kipp, one of my favorite daily inspirational mentors, says, “When you let go and admit it, accept that you have moments of being a mess, and you share that feeling at times with the rest of us, then you can step into a larger, freer life.”

So, with another Mother’s Day behind us and a new normal dawning, I have revisited something I wrote several years ago for my mom:

Letting go.

No need to give to feel anymore.

Her bare spirit shines — less the veneer.
Without speech, without talk
Now real.

Transcending words.
The essence of her soul.
Awareness without comprehension,
Cognition, no.

She looks at me finally – and actually sees.

Letting go of need.
Content to be.
Helpless though.
Fights her wheeled prison.
Her body knows now
To bridge the chasm.

There between this Scylla and Charybdis.

And yet he still clings.
Together alone.
Denies to suppress — but never go home.

Letting go of control.
But the seizures defy
The years and the secrets
He insists to know why.

Anger. Passion. Pain.

A stone cold wall.
What a loss — so far.
Tear us apart and we fall.

Oh, to let love  . .  .

So, letting go.

–Elaine

Are You Content?

let goIt’s hard to believe I started writing this blog  five years ago. Seems like five months in many ways—and yet, so much has changed and at breakneck speed.  The trailblazers along the social-media super highway—accelerators such as Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, Beth Kanter and Clay Shirky—continue to inspire and challenge my thinking as they constantly reinvent, re-calibrate and re-conceptualize their own approaches to social media, their audiences, the web and their own livelihoods. It is, indeed, an ever-changing frontier out there . . .well, out here, as well.

Where are we five years later? Where am I? Good question.

I suspect I am inordinately philosophical as I review the past five years today. Such monumental milestones. Such enormous challenges. Such “opportunities for growth.” “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Kelly Clarkson? Well, I believe Friedrich Nietzsche said it first.

Having just returned from another day of waiting in the hospital to hear news about a gravely ill parent, I am considering the past five years even more pensively.  Just moments ago, I was straightening the few sparse gray hairs dancing across my emaciated father’s damp, ashen forehead as I watched him fight for every shallow breath.

The weight of the past few years as a single mom has been palpable —encompassing my mother’s death a year a half ago after complications from a massive stroke—as well as other daunting challenges.  Let’s just say, life has been messy. However, thank goodness, the learning has been rich and the clarity gleaming beyond the fog. Fortunately, I have been open to it. Not just about the social media stuff, mind you—but most everything, really— life, love, the way I tick, and  my relationship to all of it—media, circumstances, feelings, places, people . . . That’s the good part.

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me

and 90% how I react to it.” 

― Charles R. Swindoll

This awareness is informing my writing, as well. Hence, I have arrived at this very blog post. In fact, I now think our relationship to our content is probably more important than the content itself.  In this new media, mega-sphere world, we have admittedly become obsessed with our gadgets—with the act of communicating. As Sherry Turkle says in Alone Together, we are too busy communicating to really connect.

Ironically, we began this social journey with rabid focus on the technology—the latest whiz-bang toy du jour. What will we do with Twitter? Instagram? Yada? Yada? Then, we moved to “content marketing.” We’re all about the content. The what. Serve it up in giant scoops of frothy, delicious digital goodness—early and often to satisfy Google’s ravenous, insatiable appetites. Businesses and thought leaders have been maniacal about producing “the right content” with the right words at the right time. SEO-yea!  Maximizing, masticating and matriculating . . .

But, now, I think it’s really and truly about relating.  Getting to the heart of the matter, right?  Who are we? What are we about?  Not another refill of the cloying Kool-Aid. After all, what does really matter?

Am I conscious? Am I present?  Am I paying attention? No more facade, thank you.

What does this mean to our marketing plans? Not sure. And more important, what does this mean to our relationships—whether they are with friends, romantic partners, business partners, parents, children, subordinates, siblings, superiors, colleagues, employees, customers, shareholders, vendors, service technicians, teachers, neighbors, customers, students, etc.  . . . or the person behind us in line at Target? Anyone.  You? It means being fully present, in the present—in the relationship.  (And I don’t mean with your phone, but that’s another post.) In fact, the truth is there will come time when . . .

The words don’t matter, because we cannot hear them.

The affectations, witty banter and posh color choices don’t matter, because we cannot see them.

And what matters is simply spirit—being there.

Life coach Martha Beck says, “Little miracles begin happening to you whenever you turn toward your right life – even if it’s in the middle of the muck and mire. Small miracles turn into big ones.” We just need to pay attention.

So, once again, I ask the question, are you content?

Time for Social Media Therapy in 2014?

enough time for social mediaBrian Solis, one of the pioneering voices in social media and one of my fave raconteurs, wrote a provocative year-end post called My So-Called Digital Life. In it, he turns a harsh light on social media behavior and questioned its value in our lives. As we look to the year ahead and prepare to orchestrate our communication plans—either for personal or business impact, I believe Solis’ thoughts resonate.

Whether it’s selfies, the sandwich on your plate, life events, new profile pictures, a vacation spot, your updated relationship status, a provocative quote, a random icebreaker, or humble brag,  we are wired for instant response and reaction. He observes, “With every action, we expect an equal or greater reaction.” It seems we are learning to measure our intrinsic worth as human beings in likes, comments, shares, retweets, and the coveted “favorite-d” tweet.  Solis contends, “We invite attention because we’re learning to lean on it and the reactions that pour through our screens warm us.  It reminds us that we’re appreciated, that we’re loved, that we’re alive.”

But, this is hollow praise, isn’t it? Superficial, temporal, and oh so fleeting—plus, it’s dependent on the whims and approval of others.  It is only a flimsy substitution for a core sense of self-worth and soul substance. Most any therapist would tell you this is not a solid plan for long-term mental health. Perhaps Solis is right. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate “the system”—to move on to a more psychologically healthy phase of social media– giving us the opportunity to invest differently and get more substance out of our digital lifestyle—and  perhaps more meaning out of our lives as a whole. Here are some initial musings for 2014:

mindfulness1. Engage in mindfulness. I think one way to transcend the shallow cycle of self-involvement is to approach social media with a sense of mindfulness—that is, try experiencing the moment fully for yourself first before commenting or feeling compelled to share or garner feedback.  Stay present and conscious – with yourself and for yourself first and foremost. Stay in the moment. Observe, yes, but participate fully and mindfully  in your own life.

2. Make it valuable.  The second is also pretty practical, too. If you are in business, focus on your customer’s needs and therefore and serving up relevant, engaging content that is worth their time and attention. Make it about value—early and often.

3. Put it in context. For the most part, we’ve begun to embrace content marketing, but in 2014, we’ll become more sophisticated about its deployment. We’ll discover that context is essential—especially with respect to the specific social channels used, media, target audiences, times of day . . . the many variables that define and design its relevance.   Brands should start asking themselves, “How are people using a particular social channel?” and “What makes a channel unique?” Then they will create contextually relevant content based on those insights. More and more, marketers will discover content may be king, but the power is in the context.

4.   Communicate from the inside out. This has been my mantra for a couple of years—particularly for small businesses, but it’s expanding into the enterprise social media realm.  This may seem painfully obvious, but social media synergy happens, well, socially.  Collaboration is the best way to ignite engagement. It’s that simple, and it starts with your internal team. They know your business best, anyway. You pay them to make it their business, right?  Empower them instead of thwarting them on social profiles. Give them guidelines and messaging to carry forward, around, and through.  We are talking about cultivating the social employee. We cannot communicate externally until we communicate internally. Good to remember in just about any context.

Snack, nibble, taste5. Snack, nibble and taste. Content need not be a bitter pill or a long dreary blog post. Make it tasty, fun and delicious. Make a quick 60-second video. Share a serious of fun photos or a really cool infographic.  Video. Video. Video.  Short-form video—Twitter’s Vine app and Instagram’s 15-second video make it incredibly easy to create and share this short-form content, so take the time to not only understand how to use these platforms but also how users consume content on them.

6.  Divide and conquer. It’s time to reel in the scatter-shot approach. Cultivate a solid presence in one or two channels rather than dominate every single platform.  Re-purpose your content as webinars, blog posts, ebooks, videos and social media content. Go for frequency and volume.  Stop whipping yourself into a social media frenzy– unless you enjoy that sort of thing! And for heaven’s sake, go for LinkedIn—especially if you are not maximizing it already. Develop a comprehensive LI strategy that leverages leadership profiles, group participation and your company profile.  LinkedIn is poised for major growth and impact in 2014—and if you’re in business and not on there, you’ll be missing the boat. Watch for some big feature announcements.

Your content awaits  . . . What are your thoughts for social media mindfulness?

CONTACT ME ANY TIME!

Updated: Due to Ice Storm: Holiday Customer Art Show at Stoney’s Wine Lounge | Dec. 13 | 5:00 –7:00

Sommelier Necklace

Sommelier Necklace

Join us next week when we thaw. . .

I am excited and honored to participate in a Holiday Customer Art Show at Stoney’s Wine Lounge.  It’s a festive way to sip luscious wines from around the globe, shop for one-of-a-kind gifts crafted by eclectic and surprising artists from around the corner — and savor delicious jazz with friends in a cozy neighborhood atmosphere. What could be better?

I will be including some of my favorite jewelry creations. Here are a few examples—incorporating copper, abalone, quartz amethyst, brass, silver plate, gold wire, and other semi-precious gemstones. Prices range from $35 – $150.

SaxophoneElaineGantzWright Jewelry

Artists’ Reception
Friday, Dec. 13
5:00 – 7:00 pm
Stoney’s  Wine Lounge
6038 Oram St.

Dallas, TX 75206

And here’s a little back story.

Ms. Dill

Ms. Dill

Diana, Stoney and I have an interesting history. Our paths have continued to cross since I first met Diana when she was as my seventh grade French teacher at Hockaday.

Mademoiselle Dill at the time, she may have been one the absolute “coolest” teachers on the planet.  She and Patty Edwards, my speech and debate coach in high school, would both hold that title.  “Ms. Dill” would weave in French pop-culture references and even sing to us – Francoise Hardy’s Tous les Garcons. Formidable!

And there’s more . . . Stoney and I both landed at the Dallas Museum of Art simultaneously in the late 1980s. I was arranging fabulous fetes for the Associates and President Circle-level members and his band played at those receptions. Then, when I happened to be planning my own wedding at the time, I asked Stone to play. So, there you have it . . . some saucy synchronicity—since single, however.

So, stop by on Friday or Saturday at Stoney’s. Shop, saunter or sip.  Cheers. xo

CONTACT ME ANY TIME!

Creating Content. Inspiring Results.

Triune Web Content

RECENT PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS:

Romancing the Pants  | HAGGAR CLOTHING CO.

Haggar Content Elaine Gantz WrightWhen Joseph Marion Haggar, Sr. started the Haggar Company in 1926, the most prominent apparel manufacturers on the East Coast said, “Haggar can’t make clothes in Texas, and he won’t last one year!”  Today, it’s clear that more than 87 years of persistent innovation and keen ingenuity have certainly proved them wrong.  As one of the apparel industry’s most durable brands, Haggar has maintained a stable market position for almost a century—which provides a fertile ground for new creative energy and expansion to take root.

Led by apparel impresario, Rich Honiball, Haggar’s SVP of marketing, licensing and e-commerce, the Perfecting Our Craft Campaign has reignited the 87-year-old Haggar brand from the inside out—supporting Haggar sales, merchandising, and design partners in crafting creative strategies— not just building individual packages and promotions.  I had the privilege of helping weave the Haggar “back story” or essence into the venerable American menswear label through the fine-tuning of a compelling, fully integrated brand voice.  Now, the process continues as we interpret the story, bolster the brand,  and engage the Haggar man with various media—including web, email,  Football Hall of Fame events, fashion industry initiatives, social media, blogs, Sports Illustrated and even Mike & Mike radio spots on ESPN.  So, don’t just sit there, #GetAPair.

Discovering “A New Nation” | BENEVOLENT MUSIC

Benevolent MusicTexas and California-based Benevolent Music presents the world premiere of A New Nation,” the captivating new opera based on the biblical conflict between Jacob and Esau at the Fort Worth Community Art Center’s Scott Theatre Sept. 20 -22. Directed by Dr. Rick Piersall, opera director at Abilene Christian University, and conducted by Dr. David Thye, director of the Fort Worth Symphony Chorus and conducting chair at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “A New Nation” stars tenor Samuel Cook as Jacob and baritone Daniel Lickteig as Esau.

Over the past month, I have been consulting with artistic director Mark Peterson on building a content marketing strategy to introduce his organization, vision, collaboration, as well as his world premiere work to Texas with five performances scheduled over two weeks in Abilene and Fort Worth. Tactics include integrated social media content, targeted promotions, video, inside-out campaigns leveraging production relationships, radio spots/interviews, and PPC advertising. Visit to https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34320 to purchase tickets. Read more about the production at Benevolent Music Notes; engage on Facebook – Facebook.com/benevolentmusic, Follow us on Twitter @MusicBenevolent and #ANewNation.

“A NEW NATION” PRESS RELEASE

WRR 101.1 Radio Spots

Triune Web Content

Building Success | TRIUNE GENERAL CONTRACTOR

Headquartered in Dallas, Texas with regional offices servicing the El Paso, Shreveport, Seattle, and Washington D.C. areas, Triune is a nimble, customer-riveted general contractor with a palpable passion for excellence. Since 1997, the team at Triune has been committed to exceeding customer expectations with unsurpassed levels of quality and service. Combining a national vision with regional responsiveness and local know-how, Triune is uniquely positioned to outperform the competition and needed a website that effectively communicated this capability and moxie. I worked with CEO/CFO Vince Fudzie to produce the necessary content to drive results.

TRIUNE WEBSITE

Talk to me about creating content to help drive your results.
Send me a note – and we will connect.

Remembering Ann Cushing Gantz

Ann Cushing GantzIt’s difficult to believe my mom left this earth one year ago today–after a long struggle with the aftermath of devastating stroke. No matter how difficult the journey, life is never really the same after your mother has left your world. Remembering you today, Mom. Once again, here is the poem you asked that we read at your funeral . . . and another from me.  Love, e.

When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted
By Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

Glitter Light ShineSpinning Rhythms of Delight Fantastic
By Elaine

 

Transition comes always in motion.
Summer and fall down again.
The cycle repeating so certain,
Who am I less the chagrin?

Fractured yet still—unbroken.
So this is together as one,
For it is all not forgotten.
I go forward in faith alone.

The newness of year’s end beckons
To lead my discoveries of soul.
Joy finally—that  place so vulnerable
Peace on purpose—so whole.

I’m not sure how to rest anymore.
In this place of where I prepare
What I see is now just a wisp
Of a memory on gossamer air.

I will follow the lead of my truest heart
Unfold what is next without fear.
Not a nod to the doubts of others.
Only for what is genuine and clear.

He was a mirror to my deepest ache.
Unconscious, I acquiesced.
Releasing all that, myself I cherish.
Through salted tears, I am blessed.

Remembering . . . there is time to heal.
Now, here I am—flawed and free.
Truth – such the journey uncommon.
Facing lesson’s ubiquity.

Steer no more. Press, push or pull.
In heart-fragile release Divine.
Spinning rhythms of delight fantastic.
Let  that glitter starlight shine.

Finding Myself in the Pickle: The Intersection of Art, Spirituality and Nature

ElaineGantzWright JewelryYou’ve  heard the familiar adage, “the devil is in the details.” Well, last week, I experienced quite the opposite—the yin to that yang—as so often occurs with such idioms. Truth is, I discovered the Divine in the details.  Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Art @ Mo—a rejuvenating week combining spirituality and fellowship with a healthy helping of creative nourishment—all served up  in the midst of the most idyllic scenery Texas has to offer.  It was a confluence beyond compare.  How fortunate I was to spend five days of serenity and regeneration in the cradle of the majestic Texas Hill Country outside of San Antonio.

I have been to Mo Ranch more times than I can count— with and without my boys, but this year was a completely different experience. I allowed myself to focus completely and unapologetically on the art of jewelry making, and I’m not just talking about stringing some purple beads and tying a knot (which I have been known to do and to enjoy).  This was the real deal, the artisan craft, and I never knew how liberating and captivating such a pursuit could be.

It involved intense study of the painstaking steps and discipline required to make metal jewelry from concept to creation—using fine materials, such as copper, agate, abalone, amethyst, and the like.  In addition to producing some wonderful pieces under the tutelage of master jeweler Jean Cofer, I learned some lessons that have given me insight and even a sense of peace and enlightenment in my life as a whole.   This brings me to—the pickle.

Pickle is the solution used during jewelry construction to clean away the oxides, imperfections, and discolorations that occur during the prep and soldering process.  (I will describe this in greater detail in a moment.)  It’s kind of a noxious brew of hydrochloric acid and water heated in crock pot or “cauldron.” It’ll take your skin right off, but damn, it makes gorgeous jewelry!!

As neophytes, needless to say, we mostly treated the pickle with great respect. Even using the wrong implement, such as aluminum tweezers, could cause a chemical reaction and contaminate it instantly. We were careful to use wooden dowels or copper tweezers. One brazen classmate threw an old door knob or something in the pickle one day, and the cloud of foul, sulfur-smelling gas that enveloped the room required our immediate evacuation.  Jewelry-making is not for the timid! Of course, sometimes you may decide you want  the earthy patina that only contaminated pickle can deliver.  Then, it’s more about the art than the science.

ElaineGantzWright Jewelry DesignSoldering: The Beauty of the Dark Side

I’ve always wanted to learn to solder — the process of joining metal using an alloy designed to melt at a temperature lower than the metal base. Both pieces must be heated simultaneously until the solder melts.  Upon cooling, the solder solidifies to form a firm, lasting joint. The levels of solder are termed extra easy, easy, medium. and hard—depending on their melting points. Typically, they are used in reverse progression on a given piece. It gets pretty complicated.

Then, you actually use a gas blowtorch that you ignite with a bang and flourish on top of a brick. (That’s pretty fun.)  You can use a small piece of  screen perched atop a six-inch-tall, three-legged stand to perform what’s called a “sweat” solder.  And boy, it’s hot.  I find soldering truly a mystical, hypnotic process as you wave the glowing torch in back and fort and in a rotating motion over your work — waiting for the glisten of the shiny silver alloy to “pop” and ooze.  Thinking of that Scottish play, “Bubble, bubble toil and trouble . . . ” kind of an everyday alchemy.

You heat your carefully wrought jewel one step at a time—avoiding over-heating and/or complete incineration but cajoling and coaxing in carefully and gingerly to “flow.” Jean, our wonderful teacher demonstrated how to almost caress the piece of jewelry with the flame and “fluff it” just enough to achieve the desired response at the appropriate moment.    The irony is that the pendant, ring or bracelet turns the blackest black, literally soot-encrusted and then seems to almost undulate with rainbow waves of color rolling and rippling across the once-shiny surface.  Magic.

In addition to the mesmerizing beauty of it all, the process struck me as such a basic metaphor for life’s challenges—the reality of going through the most intense heat, pain and darkness to transform into a beautiful, bright work of art. Even the terms to describe the different types of solder  fit the analogy – sometimes it’s “easy,” even “extra easy” to stay “in flow,” and sometimes it’s pretty “hard,” and we get stuck. So, we start  all over again.

The key learning for me was that every step is essential. No skipping this or that to speed up the process for us impatient, big-picture types.  Trust the process. Hmmm . . . Seems I’ve heard that one before.  This was the spiritual gateway for me –where I was able to leave behind all the “recent character-building” experiences of my Dallas life and find a renewed sense of feeling centered and at peace.  The Zen of soldering, indeed.  Each step is a piece of the puzzle.

Like “flux” – the substance you must always use in soldering to facilitate the flow and the bond.  Now, that is poetry right there.  It’s all about the steps and sequencing.  Very instructive stuff on my latest enlightenment journey.

Plus, I walked away with treasures I am proud to own and wear—along with memories of laughter and song. Win-win-win.

Next up:  Annealing and Praying  . . . don’t you love it? 

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