RechargeAmerican culture seems to hate downtime. If you’re not productive, if you’re not creating-doing-working-grinding, well, what good are you? We’re Puritan workaholics and people like to wear that like a badge. “I’m so busy,” we say to people. “I’d love to join you, but I’m swamped, I’m tired, I’m buried.” Why do we find it so hard to relax, unwind, recharge? Do you feel like this? I know I do. Lately, I’ve been pretty unproductive and it’s inspired me to busy my mind with new thoughts of entrepreneurship and business opportunities. Once I get those gears turning in my brain, though, I get wound up and I’m preoccupied and I lose sleep. It’s counterproductive. What I really need is time to recharge. I’m still figuring out what that means.

It’s finally summer here in Chicago and I’m trying to do something I’ve done very little of in my life: sunbathe. I’m a pretty pale guy and have spent a lot of time avoiding the sun. But I’ve discovered that if I do get out and get some sun I feel so much better. It must be all that Vitamin D the sun provides. After a winter that never wanted to end, getting outside and catching some rays rejuvenates me. This morning I had a bit of a headache that wouldn’t go away; so, come lunchtime, I made my way to the park and laid out. The headache disappeared immediately.

I’ve also come to the realization that in past 5 years, I have written very little. Historically, I’ve been a writer. I’ve got an MFA in writing. Ever since being in Chicago, my output has diminished. Writing for me is cathartic; it gets something out that needs to be gotten out. And it’s been so long since I’ve allowed it to flourish. I write infrequent blog posts but I don’t write much of anything beyond that.

So how does this all relate? Somewhere down the line I think I lost sight of things that are truly important to me. I’ve focused on earning a living rather than the things that make me feel good about myself. I earn this money in a good, steady, stable day job and it doesn’t make me any happier. It doesn’t make me feel like I do laying in the sun. It just tires me out. Everybody tells me it’s good but it sure doesn’t feel good.

Life can’t just be about laying in the sun and feeling good. We’ve got to work in some capacity. But your work can be fulfilling. It can fill you with happiness. It can rejuvenate you. It can exhaust you in a positive way, not in a grinding, only doing it for the dollars, sort of way. I feel this need to recharge but the definition of it escapes me. What I’m coming to understand is that the longer you walk down the wrong path, the more tired you become and the farther away this notion of recharging gets. How do you ever get your head above this murky water?

As cliche as it sounds, you’ve got to be true to yourself. If you won’t allow this of yourself, nobody will. At the most basic level, you’re responsible for your own happiness and it’s the choice you make that dictates whether you live a fulfilling life or a grinding life. It’s a choice every step of the way. I don’t want to feel like I need to recharge any longer because just lying around, relaxing, being unproductive doesn’t truly recharge me. There’s something else out there.

Posted by Joe. Photo courtesy of anataman.

Our One Year Anniversary

Our One Year AnniversaryA year ago this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, Maple Rowe officially opened our “doors” to the public. It happened by accident, actually. We had taken some samples to our friend Sherri at Komoda to get her opinion. After looking over the handful of fully packaged bars of soap we had brought her, she suddenly asked, “Can I buy some?” We weren’t ready, we didn’t have everything prepared, but we couldn’t say no. How could we when our goal was to sell our soap to stores? We enthusiastically said “yes!” and then ran home to figure out how we could make it happen. We’re still always trying to figure out how to make it happen, so to speak; we haven’t looked back since.

This past year has been great. It’s been difficult, it’s been fun, and it’s definitely been a learning experience. Our first holiday season left us gasping for breath, and we have so much in store for this year’s holiday season that it’s a little scary to think about. But the main thing we have to look forward to is the excitement of selling our creations. Positive feedback never gets old. We’re so happy people enjoy using our soap, and every new person who tells us they love us reminds us of the thrill that Sherri gave us when she said she wanted to carry Maple Rowe soap in her shop.

The hard work is worth it. And it truly is hard work, both of us still working day jobs so that we can pursue Maple Rowe at night and on weekends. Sometimes it’s hard to step back and just give ourselves a moment to relax. Could we ever do enough? Are we working as hard as we should on Maple Rowe? It’s certainly tough to find balance. But the true test here is the test of our patience and gumption. We know this is possible, we’re doing it everyday. We go one step at a time, build it brick by brick, and whatever other hackneyed phrases try to artfully say, “go slow, it’ll happen.”

We all want things instantly. That’s our culture. But impatience fuels disappointment. Patience, on the other hand, allows you to appreciate this moment right now. All the work we’ve put in has added up to this moment, this place, exactly where we are. We’re incredibly thankful for what we’ve achieved and everybody who has helped and supported us along the way.

Happy Anniversary Maple Rowe.

Posted by Joe. Photo courtesy of Alison Curtis.

Naturally Doing

River flowAs spring in Chicago finally begins to blossom, Maple Rowe has so many exciting things ahead of us. We had an incredible first holiday season. We learned a lot about ourselves and about our company. We want to thank everyone who supported us over the holidays, people who bought soap, people who gave it to others as a gift, and the wonderful stores that carry our product. The feedback we’ve gotten has been unreal. It’s superbly rewarding to hear positive things about your own creation. It makes us work harder and it makes us do a better job. Most of all, it makes us feel like we’re on the right track.

The last few weeks have been very busy for us. We’ve recently begun selling to two new stores here in Chicago, Brew Camp up in North Center and Fleur in Logan Square. Amazingly, both of these stores found us. We met the guys from Brew Camp through a completely unplanned situation; they purchased an item from us that we were selling on Craigslist. It just so happened they were looking specifically for soapmakers to help bolster the gift section in their store. Absolute kismet. With Fleur, we had been planning on approaching them for a while as they are one of our favorite floral and gift shops in the city. Not a week or two before we had planned to get in touch, Fleur contacted us first. Just stunning. All this makes us feel so fortunate.

These instances remind me of the Taoist concept of wu wei, meaning non-striving or non-doing. The idea is that things want to do what they are naturally going to do, no interference or purposeful action is necessary. A tree grows but it does not purposefully try to grow. The water in a river does not need to remind itself to flow. That’s just what it does. It’s been our desire all along to just naturally grow with ourselves; we don’t want Maple Rowe to grow too quickly for us to handle, we don’t want to force it, yet we don’t want to remain static either. We need to grow at our own pace, whatever that is. We just sit back, keep working, keep evolving, and see where it takes us.

The most exciting thing for us is that we get better every day. The soap we’ve been making over the last few months is even better than we’ve done before. The more soap we make, the better we get. We have new fragrances in the works that we’re so pumped to release. It all just seems to be coming together. It’s a nice feeling. In the meantime, we’ll just continue to work as we do, take our days off when we feel like we should, and just move in the direction we’re pointed. It’s amazing how the littlest victory can bring so much happiness.

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

Alan Watts

Posted by Joe. Photo courtesy of Gael Martin.