Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Navigating the Circle

"We must remember that we have “permission” to succeed and to struggle in a supportive community–but only if we CREATE that community. An idealized hooping community exists in our mantras and ideology, but the challenge lies in manifesting it. We can all be awesome in the circle: awesome hoopers and awesome friends who take the extra step to say hello and get to know each other when we share hoop-space."

Read more about the importance of making introductions, sharing space, and creating community in my newest article with hooping.org.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Guide to Negative Hoop-Product Experiences and Reviews

By its very nature the hooping community is populated by self-starters, DIYers, and craftspeople. Though local hooping groups, classes, and even brick-and mortal shops have grown more common, the majority of hoopers still pick up the circle on their own. They spot a hoop dancer in a video or at a festival, run a quick Google search, and launch themselves into a new art form. Many create their own hoops and teach themselves to hoop using the vast resources available on-line. As they carry their new hobby into the wider world they are met with opportunities to make their personal craft public. For example, a friend may ask the hooper to make them a hoop. A hooper may land a performing gig and choose to bust out her sewing machine rather than dropping cash on a pair of flow pants. After receiving countless complements and questions about her bad ass outfit or her sparkling hoop, she may set up a booth at a local market or launch an ETSY store. After all, she is making an investment in materials, skill-building, and time: why not recoup some of that expenditure?

Obviously there are other narratives and folks go into business for countless reasons. However, that is my experience and the experience of numerous hoopers I have met across the internet. Craftsmanship begins as personal, expands to friends, and then spirals outward from there. As a result, the hooping community is heavily saturated with small, start-up ventures. It can be bewildering to navigate as a customer and equally difficult for a vendor who witnesses their home-grown project suddenly explode with holiday or festival-season orders.

I spin out this speculative narrative because it is important to keep in mind both for the customer dealing with a problem and the hoop-maker responding to a complaint. Misunderstandings, delays, and problems invariably happen and they are often complicated by the anonymity of the internet, as well as the limitations of on-line communication.

In a vast community filled with start-ups and with no centralized location for finding product reviews, unhappy customers often turn to on-line forums. Their posts are met with a range of responses. On one hand, some feel that negative product reviews carried to other websites too easily descend into bashing, name-calling, and personal attacks. It’s easy to be unprofessional or even cruel when you feel you have been wronged--especially when we move into the realm of high-end purchases like smarthoops.

On the other hand, some are grateful to read these reviews because they provide information potential buyers might otherwise never know. After all, these is currently no centralized location to find product reviews and sellers often have the option of deleting or otherwise moderating reviews that are posted on their own website.

I personally gravitate toward the latter opinion. Though I feel all parties should conduct themselves mindfully and respectfully, I invariably vote for more information--even when that information can be read as negative or unnecessary. With that said, I would like to offer a few guidelines for dealing with bad business transactions and leaving negative reviews.

1. Be a smart buyer.
  • Before you make a purchase, research the company. 
  • Read the reviews on their website. 
  • Note how long they have been in business. Many companies take time to hone their product, so it may serve you well to make your larger purchases from a well-established company. 
  • Pay attention to warranty information. This includes understanding how the company deals with refunds and repairs. If you know this information, you can hold the company responsible for meeting their promises. However, you can not expect more than their policies guarantee. 
  • Note production time. This can be an indicator of both the company’s demand and how effectively they meet that demand. [Keep in mind that Paypal only offers a 45 days window to file a complaint. Long production/wait times can hinder your ability to use this resource.]
  • Laura Eastburn of Superhooper suggests e-mailing sellers ahead of time to ask questions. Also there response time will give you a better understanding of their willingness to communicate and their professionalism. 

2. Use the authorized channels first. 
  • If you are unhappy with a product, contact the seller immediately. 
  • Leave a clear, accurate description of your problem. 
  • Attach a photo of a broken or incorrectly made hoop.
  • Also attach/copy-paste/link to your receipt if possible.
  • Then give them time to respond. Their shop policies may outline their typical response time, but a week is a logical expectation. 
  • If you receive no response after a week, forward a copy of your original message with a short message at top explaining that you haven’t received a response and take further steps (leaving negative feedback, filing a grievance, etc.) if not contacted within 3-4 days.  Use any channels available to you: e-mail, phone, text. In a world of mostly written communication, a phone call (if they list a number) shows you’re serious. Be mindful though. If you bombard them with messages, you may escalate a situation. 
  • Keep your tone positive and professional. 
  • Afterward, leave feedback through ETSY, EBAY, or whatever site you used. If they helped you resolve the issue, not how they made it right as well as what went wrong. If they didn't respond to your communications, note that too.
  • Use paypal. If you carried out a transaction through Paypal, you can file a grievance. This may be the best route if an ordered product never arrived and you cannot reach a seller.
  • Use ETSY. Etsy also has a case system to resolve issues. Cases can be opened within 60 days, but if the transaction was carried out through paypal, those limitations still apply. 

3. Focus on the product, not the person
When you leave a negative product review, explain why. Detail the exact problem with the product. Though we often know the hoop-makers or designers behind various companies, leave names and personal details out of the review.

4. Keep it clean.
Do not insult, threaten, or rage. Stick to the facts. It may help to imagine you are a product reviewer for a website or magazine. What you write and how you write it reflects on your credibility. If your goal is to help others avoid making the same mistake you made, you will be more effective if you present yourself professionally, logically, and compassionately.

5. Note any relevant circumstances
For example, if you waited 6 weeks for a product and during 2 of those weeks, the seller was on vacation, let readers know. Also note if you were informed there would be a delay or not. If you ordered during the holidays, note it because things get crazy over the holidays and we should give sellers credit for that. At the same time potential buyers should know if they can expect holiday orders on time.

6. Be compassionate, kind, and mindful--always.
As a buyer, you have the right to fair and honest service. When you do not receive it, it is natural to be angry or frustrated. However keep in mind that you are dealing with another fallible human being. They make mistakes, especially when they’re just beginning a business or going through a period of expansion. As a product reviewer, your goal is not to shame anyone. Your goal is to hold them accountable for  honest, top-quality business practices.

7. After you write your review, save it, and then reread it later before posting. 
Detailing your experience may stir up passionate feelings so go back in and review your work later. Edit, proofread, and make changes so that your review meets the previously listed guidelines.

8. If you post to an open forum or group, expect questions and/or criticism
As mentioned before, there are folks who see negative reviews as, well....negative. You may be accused of bashing or stirring the pot. Your post may be deleted even if you wrote it respectfully with the best intentions. Such is the way of the internet and hyper-positivity  in the hooping community. Don't take it personally and know that there are people out there who appreciate your honest feedback.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Book of Nature

In America we tend to think of science and religion as conflicting world views. This is, after-all, the land that still, despite wide-spread scientific consensus, wrangles with climate change denial.  This is the land where my home-state passed an "academic freedom" bill because Missourians still can't reconcile Darwin and Genesis.

In the late 1800s, Scientist John William Draper proposed, "The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other." Though contemporary scientists denounce Draper's Conflict Thesis as overly simplistic, it remains a powerful force in popular culture. Adherents on either side of the supposed conflict glare scornfully into the opposing camp and lament the willful ignorance of the other. The media (both conservative and liberal) just heightens to problem by highlighting sensational non-news stories. Politicians exploit the divisive politics of stem-cell research, environmental regulation, and abortion to forward their own political agendas.

However, both history and modern science reveal the interconnectedness of science and religion. For example, during the Renaissance, believers across the social spectrum saw two paths toward understanding God. One was the Book of Scripture--the Bible. The other was the Book of Nature--scientific observation. Thus thinkers, scientists, and laymen alike believed that the more that science revealed about nature, the more they understood God's great work and purpose.

Modern pagans are a people without a Book of Scripture. There are undoubtedly books that have become foundational touch-stones of our faith. However our sprawling, eclectic religion is better conceptualized as interlocking circles rather than a list of tenants. One of those circles is idea of paganism as a nature-centric or earth-based spirituality. As Starhawk explains in The Earth Path, "The Goddess is embodied in the natural world, and science in its truest sense is about knowing nature. Thus our thealogy needs to be empirical as well as mystical." We are people of the second Book--the Book of Nature.

In Between Worlds I meditated on the strange balancing act between my witchy self and my academic self. As members of an Outsider community, it's easy to become skeptical and disenfranchised with seemingly authoritarian systems that leave minimal space for outlying perspectives. Many folks enter paganism to validate experiences and ideas that the mechanical/scientific world-view discredits: dreams, spirits who whisper through the leaves of trees, primeval stories, and nostalgic visions of a time before the industrial revolution.

In respect to all those folks who've been told that their beliefs are "scientifically impossible" and those who prefer poetry to statistics, I won't argue that all pagans should be scientists. Since we're working from a place of personal experience rather than academic consensus, we don't have to be completely methodical, rational, and objective. We have a unique space to embrace the best of both worlds.

To best explore those worlds, I believe pagans should study the Book of Nature as naturalists. Merriam Webster defines a naturalist as "a student of natural history; especially: a field biologist." I imagine a world where pagans spend less time sitting in living rooms talking about the four elements and more time mucking about outdoors. We can speak to a trees as "Sister-Dryad" for the mythical maidens who inhabit their branches or we can name them oak, silver maple, and sycamore. We can sing to the rippling waters and take the time to learn the creek's name and how it connects to our watershed.

Names hold power (thanks, Le Guin) and I've found that learning about nature,--the names, the cycles, etc.--increases my connection to this tapestry of life that I hold sacred. Knowledge reveals miracles. The Book of Nature both enchants and explains.  Rather than getting caught up in the religion/science binary, I borrow the tools of science (primarily observation) to understand and illuminate my religion. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Past is Heavy

My grandparents on their wedding day
Inheritance. Heritage. History. Legacy. Sins of the fathers. Memory.

Time becomes the photographs, heirlooms, dusty Avon bottles, and stacks of Reader’s Digest books. A life becomes the debris unearthed by grown children and sorted into cardboard boxes for disposal.

With each box carted to the hall, the weight of memory shifts from the shoulders of the dying. The hands of the living must accept their burden, but the past is heavy. The answers to time’s riddles are hidden in dust.  What objects can be discarded? Which should be left for others? What item should I take to distill and thus preserve decades of memory?

In Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

"The past is a burden we carry, heavy at first,
the slowly alchemized into something ethereal and strange,
as the heart, like a Marquez novel, distills memory into art.
I stand a few years farther along than Marquez’s romantic anti-hero on this journey through time.  I understand how the heart’s memory operates, but being new to the mechanism, have not yet learned to construct a convincing artifice.

This month my family began dismantling my grandmother’s house. It’s been a project a-long-time-coming and much delayed. The act seems like a physical manifestation of my grandmother’s illness. Like Alzheimer’s has scattered and erased her past, so we scatter and erase as we empty the old house of its contents.

I’m only a grandchild to that house. The ache is a mix of nostalgia and generalized fear of death. But sitting next door, on the same lot, the lot which must be liquidated in compliance with Medicaid procedure, is my father’s house. The house where I grew up. The house where my bedroom floor was carpeted with patchwork carpet scraps. The house with that ugly orange couch where I first discovered dust motes shining in afternoon sunlight. The house that smells like paperbacks and cigarettes will soon disappear in a dirge of “if only I’d known…”

Its loss is hard. Its loss is heavy. Neither my house nor my heart has room for all the memories, fermented dreams, and artifacts my father has gathered and inherited. And to think he looses all that as his own mother fades into the fog of age and illness…it breaks my heart.

But the past is a chain that will not be broken. It is a burden we carry, heavy at first, then slowly alchemized into something ethereal and strange, as the heart, like a Marquez novel, distills memory into art. The fragments of family history tumble through the mind until they are smooth and beautiful, until they are small and stable: a single photograph, a bedtime story, or a relic rescued from a cardboard box.

My relic to preserve the past.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hoop Inspiration - More Than Just a Pretty Dance

"Just go to Youtube and search for hoop dance." As the unofficial 'hoop girl' of my small Midwestern town, I make this suggestion at least once a week. Folks often respond with wonder, disbelief, or confusion upon learning that a grown woman spends hours each week dancing inside a plastic circle. For those folks who haven't seen hoopdance, those who don't have a reference point, it must seem ridiculous. Do they imagine I stand for hours just keeping the hoop up around my waist? Do they translate hoop dancer into stripper in the round. Sometimes it seems that way, so if I don't have a hoop on hand to demonstrate, I send them to Youtube. 

Later I wonder what videos they found. Is Shakti Sunfire's performance at O Dance studio in Boulder still the first search result? (I checked, it's farther down the list now.) Will they stumble across some gal rocking a bikini and fishnets and instantly doubt my promise that hooping is for everybody and every body? Will their digitized glimpse reveal the transformative magic, the healing, and the joy that hooping creates? Or will they see just another pretty dance? 

In the video collection below you'll find hoop dance videos that delve a little deeper. They explore the process, the practice, the philosophy, and the sublime magic of hoop dance. Though the skill and grace of these hoopers is mind-boggling in its own right, these videos also reveal a bit of the emotion behind the motion. 

Love the Process - Sandra Safire 

It's a Practice - Jaguar Mary 

Eye of the Storm - Brecken 

This is my Flow - Tiana at Hoop Path 7 

Sacred Hoop - Hoop Alchemy 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Across time: Carol Lee Sanchez

Last winter, a friend gave me a book of poetry, From Spirit to Matter by carol lee sanchez. The book was a thrift store find by a local poet. As I delved into the book’s first poems, I was enchanted. sanchez’s verses transported my mind to that reflective, creative sanctuary that can only be reached between the lines of beautiful poems. My friend and I, both delighted and inspired by the discovery of such a brilliant mind in our corner of the world, began to discuss visiting the poet. After all, she lived in Hughesville. I went to school there as a teen. I often drive past the town on my country cruises.

But when I wandered online to learn more, I discovered Ms. Sanchez had died the previous year. A small, undoubtedly selfish, corner of my heart broke.

Reading Sanchez’s poetry blessed my life like reading Millay blessed my life. “Symbols” moved my mind like “The Eolian Harp” moved my mind.

For a few bright hours I thought I would be able to say thank you.

In the author’s note, sanchez writes, “these poems then are what I ‘bring’ into hard copy, from spirit to matter, my ‘messages’ from where I am here to where you are -- there. I look forward to hearing from you through the pages of time.”

Our times missed a beat and never crossed, though I love to imagine we watched the same corner of the sky turn gold and shopped at the same grocery stores.

Thank you.

symbols - by carol lee sanchez

symbols release energy
move from mind to matter
matter very much
become stored knowledge
precious entities
collected as beads or bytes
restored on recycled tree

somewhere long ago
on an ordinary day
a human mind perceived
nature’s random paintings
as recorded reflections of
familiar things

wind prints on sand or
water marks on rocks
holding line and shape
together to form: animal
fish fowl tree branch leaf
human faces human bodies

somewhere on earth
on an ordinary day
a human hand understood
the magic transcription
used stick stone and bone
to etch symbols from her mind
into wood sand and stone

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tough Love and Trying to be Kind

Today I noticed that many of my blog posts are confrontational. They rage against the media or question assumptions. They often "take to task" things I love like yoga, paganism, motherhood, and feminism.

Most of my posts are inspired by something I read on-line and are a kind of distanced rebuttal to a casual phrase or concept that strikes my mind at a strange angle. I blame it on being an English major. I guess I'm not inspired to write unless I'm arguing, critiquing, or debating something.

However, with today's post, I want the world to know that I do it out of love!

I love my communities so much and so hard that I want them to rise. I want to peel back the layers and find the beautiful hearts beating underneath. I love them so much that I can't ignore something that bothers me. I have to understand it, and writing these little social critiques has become my path toward understanding.

In Outsider communities, there's a big impulse to always get along. After all, don't we get criticized and demeaned enough by the outside world? Shouldn't we create a safe space where no one fears criticism? No. (Here I go again!) That is how dogma and conformity are born.

I love my communities and I want to help them grow. I hope to give voice to thoughts that I imagine others must feel. I ask for more than prerequisite acceptance....from myself, others, and all things.

And this is why I will always call out sexism in science fiction films. This is why I will always get pissed off at websites that say yoga is for everyone, but inevitably feature only pictures of a slender white women. That is why I refuse to read pagan books that don't cite their sources and try to wrangle semantics with hoop dancers.

I love it all, but love requires thought. Love flourishes in the fresh air of discourse, thoughtful disagreement, and constructive criticism.

I hope to write in such a way simultaneously critiques and celebrates. (It's like being a Star Wars fan, you know? I've loved and petted these things so much that I've frayed the fibers and must pick at the wayward strings.) I hope to always write thoughtfully and in kindness.

Furthermore, I hope that when I do overstep the boundaries of thoughtfulness and kindness someone will have the bravery and beauty to speak out. That is, after-all, it's own form of love.

When we're willing to speak out, to disagree, and make our voices heard, we are supporting one another and our beloved communities as we strive toward equality, wisdom, grace, and compassion. Blessed be!