A new policy of charitable donations from the Fragmentalist Etsy shop

Etsy, where my mosaics are available for sale, is a great handmade marketplace and a fantastic way for small artisans to be found by customers from all over the world. It may not be the ideal place to sell large, heavy, one-of-a-kind mirrors and coffee tables – small, inexpensive items that can be easily shipped anywhere in the world do much better there – but it is still one of the best options for selling one’s art online.

Since I’ve set out to make mosaics full time last May, I’ve been told by many artists that the recession has been hard on the arts market. While customers are still making small impulse buys, such as handmade jewellery, those artists who make larger works of art requiring more of a financial investment have seen a big decline in their sales in the last few years.

I know that my mosaics are luxury items. I feel fortunate to be able to afford – both in terms of materials cost and time – to do something I really enjoy. Those who still buy art and handcrafted objects despite the tough economic times are supporting artists and makers in doing what they love, and for that I am very thankful to them.

All this is to say that I have decided to donate a percentage of all sales made through my Etsy shop to charitable organizations in appreciation of the fact that a market in art exists at all, that it enables me to do what I love, that global e-commerce makes it easy and that all of us who participate in it are really very fortunate.

These are the three charities I’ve listed as the options for where the donation can go: EFF for protecting the frontiers of our digital freedom, WWF for protecting endangered species and wildlife habitats and United Way Canada for protecting our local communities.

Thanks and please spread the word!

Crowdsourcing happiness

One of the crucial inspirations and sources of strength behind my decision, earlier this year, to trade corporate employment for trying to make a living as an artist, was a growing awareness of the spirit of mutual support and cooperation infectiously spreading through Internet communities.

Rolling Jubilee logo with contribution counterMore and more collaborative, knowledge sharing, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding initiatives are starting up and succeeding, with small individual contributions from people around the world, at getting the most remarkable things done.

For example, a recently launched Strike Debt project Rolling Jubilee aims to buy up people’s outstanding charged-off loans for pennies on the dollar and … forgive them.  For every $1 you contribute, they will wipe out $20 of some random stranger’s unmanageable debt. Only American strangers, of course, but I still pitched in. Crowdsourcing good will just feels right.

Wikipedia, of course, is a fantastic resource created through volunteer collaboration that we often take for granted. I use it most often as a bibliography of first-stop sources for any new topic. Given that googling anything results in an avalanche of noise that still needs to be sifted to extract relevant signal, the external references section at the bottom of Wikipedia articles functions as a curated list of links, hand-picked by others out of the noise.

With the quality and accuracy matching and often surpassing that of commercially produced encyclopaedias, Wikipedia is an indispensable resource that is not only free, but also advertising-free, and aims to stay that way. A non-profit undertaking, intending to remain objective and independent of advertising revenue, they are currently running their annual campaign for donations.

I donated this morning, and found the thank-you letter very personable and well-written in getting to the heart of what makes Wikipedia awesome and worth supporting, so I thought I’d share it here:

“Dear Natalie,
Thank you for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. You are wonderful!
It’s easy to ignore our fundraising banners, and I’m really glad you didn’t. This is how Wikipedia pays its bills — people like you giving us money, so we can keep the site freely available for everyone around the world.
People tell me they donate to Wikipedia because they find it useful, and they trust it because even though it’s not perfect, they know it’s written for them. Wikipedia isn’t meant to advance somebody’s PR agenda or push a particular ideology, or to persuade you to believe something that’s not true. We aim to tell the truth, and we can do that because of you. The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent and able to deliver what you need and want from Wikipedia. Exactly as it should be.
You should know: your donation isn’t just covering your own costs. The average donor is paying for his or her own use of Wikipedia, plus the costs of hundreds of other people. Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who’s teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who’s just discovered Carl Sagan.

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Progress check-in: 2 months

It’s been a little over two months since I left my job at the bank to seek happiness (as the parting announcement explained).

Contrary to some predictions, I’m neither sleeping in and reading books all day, nor getting the hankering to ask for my old job back. In fact, I continue to feel that the decision to abandon gainful employment for creative and learning ventures was the right one. I still have difficulties fitting everything I want to get done each day into a day, but I know that everything that I do get done is interesting and relevant and a step towards what I want my future to be.

Still, spending time (which always seems to be such a limited resource) on projects that don’t quite work out can be incredibly frustrating. For example, I spent most of a week painting a moss mural on the side of our garage – it was going to be crazy awesome living growing art, except it’s simply not growing. It may be that this summer is too hot and dry for moss to happily adapt itself to new surroundings after being transported there via blender.

And so, even though at least a year would have to pass before the success of my whole endeavor can be realistically evaluated, it still good to stop and survey the progress every couple of months to get some perspective.

In my previous life as an analyst, after two months at a new job all you could reasonably expect to have achieved is this: to have all the necessary applications and tools configured, to have all the IDs and accesses set up, to have read a couple of thick welcome packages, signed off on company policies, and acquired a glimmer of hope of understanding a few of the acronyms you’re being bombarded with.

Considered in this perspective, I have actually got quite a bit done.

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On the balance of daily experience

A couple of years ago I came across the idea of optimal daily experience – like a recommended nutritional intake for the mind. It was suggested that to maintain a healthy balance, there are four types of experiences that everyone should have daily: social, physical, intellectual and creative.

Here’s an example of each: lunch with a friend, a workout, a foreign language lesson, and writing a song. Daily. A daunting proposition for anyone with a 9 to 5 job, chores to do and kids to take care of.

When we’re younger, it’s easier to maintain the balance: in school or university opportunities to have a variety of daily experiences are readily available, and it’s not difficult to incorporate them into flexible student schedules.

As we grow up and get full time jobs and families, these opportunities gradually drop off. Most adults probably don’t have occasion to experience all four types in any given month, let alone every day, unless they make a conscious effort to do so.

In the last few months, I was starting to find that maintaining this balance was taking me an inordinate amount of effort.

I would go to work at an office where I’ve worked for years and where few intellectual challenges remained. The nature of the financial industry has no place for creativity. Hence I would spend a huge chunk of my day having zero-value experiences – not learning much and not creating much, just counting off the hours until I could get home, play with the kids and put them to bed and then try to squeeze the entire daily ration of learning, physical activity and artistic projects into the two hours that were left in the day.

When, a few weeks ago, I made the decision to quit that job, it was partly due to the realization that if a healthy balance of experience was that important to me, then I would have to make some very different choices to be able to maintain it. I think I was having creativity DTs.

top two panels from xkcd web comic "Choices: Part 4"

Dramatization of my internal dialogue on choices courtesy of xkcd

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What I’m looking forward to

Here are some of things I’m looking forward to doing just as soon as my last day at the office ends:

in the sunshine

  • Getting started on all the creative projects I’ve not had time to work on – new mosaics, digital illustration, putting my portfolio together for architecture school.
  • Biking my kids to daycare every morning – pulling their trailer behind me up that one ridiculously steep hill that just can’t be avoided on the way from our house to anywhere.
  • Finally figuring out all the manual settings on my camera.
  • Not taking the same route to the same place every day; exploring the city instead – visiting historical neighbourhoods and art fairs, parks and outdoor markets – there are so many corners of Toronto I haven’t walked around yet.

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What I’m leaving behind

When thiat the offices week ends, so will my employment at the bank where I’ve been working for nearly six years. The decision to leave this job was both scary and exhilirating when I finally made it a couple of weeks ago after months of deliberation. Now that I’ve turned in my resignation, the fear has become irrelevant while the excitement continues to grow.

Some of the things I’m leaving behind are things that many people are looking for – job security, good income, great managers and coworkers. (Also a lucky streak of getting the most fantastically secluded window seats whenever there was a rearrangement.) I appreciated these things and considered myself privileged for having them. I thought it was probably impertinent, having what I had, to want something completely different.

The most enjoyable moments I had at work were hours-long stretches of coding in SAS, headphones on, figuring out simple solutions to complex problems, elegant ways of dealing with ungainly data, optimal arrangments of messy extracts into smoothly flowing processes. I liked knowing that even though the end results of whatever I was working on would not be beautiful – some report showing that everyone is underperforming on their targets, some analysis results briefly glanced at by an executive – the way of getting there would be.

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