Success from the Heart – The Heart of the Mendocino Coast, Part 1

I’ve visited the Mendocino coast nearly every year; as far back as I can remember.  My dad was passionate about the Northern California

Village of Mendocino, CA

Village of Mendocino, CA

coast and the rugged shores of Mendocino.  We headed there on summer road trips, to brave the bracing winds and stinging-cold water and watch my mom comb the beaches for shells and pretty pieces of glass.   In my early adolescence I became fascinated with the bohemian lifestyle of the village of Mendocino: a grocery store in an old church, charming bookstores in funky water towers, and colorful people and their artwork all over town.

This year I traveled to the Mendocino coast again as I planned and assisted the Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce with a press trip for travel writers.  I was meeting and working and getting to know a few people who live and work in Mendocino and Fort Bragg.   As I listened to them I somehow began to sense what it feels like to live there.  I could feel how different and unique it is to dwell on this coastal edge; edging up against the rocky beaches, cold and windy days, forest roads and rural living.

It’s not completely easy to live on the Mendocino coast.  The town of Fort Bragg, the village of Mendocino and a few small hamlets along Hwy 1 are on their own for providing all of the modern conveniences that we, in the 21st century, take for granted.  Cell phone service is limited, having just landed in Mendocino about two years ago; still, most likely, you have to duck around a corner, or go outside on your porch to pick up a signal.   There are not a lot of choices for employment; working and making a living takes creativity and diligence.

Who I met in Mendocino opened my eyes to what it means to live from your heart, with what calls to you.  An artist who brings freedom of expression, color and creativity to children and the community; a raw food chef and writer who has lived a life of discovery, sharing her talents and bringing attention to the talents of others.  And a couple in love with the outdoors, the river and sea and wildlife, and sharing this environment they have discovered.  What is intriguing to me is that all of these people have been in Mendocino/Fort Bragg for less than ten years.  In other words, they are not native to the area, but they have been drawn there to settle in and make it their home.

Part One of this series is my interview with Janet Self, an artist and community organizer. My first meeting with Janet was brief as she shared her art with our group and took us on a walking tour around the village of Mendocino to experience the art of the community.  I held her image and energy and expression of commitment in my head long after our trip and knew that she was one of my Success from the Heart…I wanted to know more…

Janet Self/Flockworks

How old were you when you began to build the business you have today?  Was it a straight journey or did you begin with something else that twisted and turned and evolved into what your business is today?

If I focus on Flockworks, as “the business” I have now created I would look back to when I was 26 years old, that is when I was ready to leave DC and come back to California and pursue my artwork. But I fell in love and he asked me not to go; so I stayed, got married a year later and advanced along another path for over 20 years. I continued to make my way back here where we lived in El Dorado county.  Then I came to Mendocino for an art class with my daughter and I when I returned back home I told my husband, “This is it.  We have to move there.  I can no longer be here (Sierra Foothills/El Dorado county)…that is my environment.”

So, at 51, I began knitting things together, the things that were my passions and the work that had come from the history of myself and the world I had been involved with. It brought together my passion for community; how we treat each other, how the wider world works together – it marries it with my own personal passion.

Flockworks, http://flockworks.blogspot.com/, is a non-profit organization – its mission to bring art to the community and bring the

Janet Self, FlockWorks.org

Janet Self, FlockWorks.org

community of artists and others together; to collaborate and share and work together.  When I got here I spent about two and half years working on my own art again; studying it, acrylics and ceramics, rediscovering all that.  I got in with the Mendocino Figure Drawing Collective and that became my focal point.  Then there was the whole history of the Odd Fellows Hall. I approached the owner to ask if he would loan it out for an art show; then two shows, then I began a series.  When you do a series of shows, then people start to pay attention and notice what’s going on; both artists and the community.  The Odd Fellows hall had been the central place for art for over 40 years. The series led to the non-profit organization, the framework that creates art and a community organization.  In the first year, 2007, we had eleven to fourteen shows.

How did you recognize what was in your heart to do?

My mother was an artist; off-loom weaving, garden shows. As I had planned, at 26 I was going to pursue my own art.  My life became much different, with family and work, living on a farm in Virginia.  But here, in Mendocino, when my passion for my own art was revived and my passion for working within and for the community was called for, that’s what it was to do.

How does your business reflect your passion?

The series of art shows, getting the community involved, having community projects evolve from the artwork. The school project started because my son’s school was so uninviting and unattractive. I brought the art to the kids to work on for just twenty minutes during the lunch hour.  The kids come and go, play with the painting and colors, bring their friends in, share the experience, all the sweet lessons that they learn from the experience.

Did you ever, or how often did you think you were wasting your time or that it was a foolish venture?  How did you overcome your doubts?

There was plenty of anxiety when I first stepped out to share my art and support the community with my organizational ideas. I was the new person in town, and was my art good enough?  But as the shows developed the success was beyond what I expected.  The feedback from artists and others was important. I wanted to be in the background, enabling people to accomplish something great.  I worked on expanding the 2nd Saturday parties.  Handing out postcards and walking through the whole town personally inviting the businesses to participate.  We had 300 people, wall to wall.  It was exciting for the local artists, who had withdrawn but now could experience the things they had dreamed about, bringing their art to the community.

Stewart Emery, in Success Built to Last, emphasizes having a “disciplined practice” to keep on track; ways to measure how you are accomplishing what you’ve set out to do.  Do you have a disciplined practice or two, or more; and what is it?

When I evolved into the artist lifestyle and my intentions to study and develop my art, the whole purpose was to let go of watches, schedules, timelines; to let things just float in the air.  But with an organization you can’t not do those things!  For example, with the Stone Soup event; we had potters make pots and restaurants donate the soup.  I used all my background of organizing, marketing strategy to bring everyone together.  We had 400 people the first year.  Then 800 the second year!  Each person with a bowl; the potters made enough bowls!  The restaurants doubled their soup!  What developed was having people collaborate and communicate and reach out to each other, one on one. Personally asking people to contribute and participate.  This is not a generalized marketing plan.  It’s taking the time to be with and communicate with people. Keeping focused on the personal attention, the real invitation and welcoming. The structure and discipline of that is taking the time to be with people in the moment; even with appointments to be kept. I know it’s important to stop and talk with someone when I see them at the post office.  So maybe then, not being exactly on time to an appointment but knowing the importance of stopping to talk with someone in the community; the importance of checking in on someone at their business, to be available to people in the community.  That’s what this community is, kind and welcoming.  I want to sustain that, work with others to invest time into sustaining that personal, welcoming community.

Who are your heroes?

My mom – she is #1. She died years ago, during a hard time when my first daughter was just 6 months old and we were living on a farm in Virginia.  But she sits right here on my shoulder overlooking all that I’m doing.  She pushed the edges of her work and involvement.

What does success mean to you?

Success means when I’m 83-85 years old I will be part of a community that cares and honors elder artists and supports the young artists and people continue to stop at the post office to talk with each other and share and contribute. And 30 years from now, I’ll still be a part of that and others will have stepped in to continue that mission in life.

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