- Abby Franquemont
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It’s hard to believe, but five years ago today is the date on the WHOIS record for abbysyarns.com. In other words, today we are five.
Dude, we’ve come a long way. Baby. I was going to make this a blog post full of recaps, like “Hey, here, look at this old post,” and be all “Best of the First Five Years” or whatever. But instead… I’m gonna tell you a story, and then ask you a question.
Five years and four months ago, I left behind my computer career. You see, here’s the thing. I grew up with self-employed parents and I knew how hard that was. When I struck out on my own as a young adult, I worked with self-employed musicians. I waited tables. I temped in offices. I did… you know, whatever, for a living. Nothing you could really call a career.
But long about 1992, as things happened, there I was at this short-term contract editorial assistant gig that I had, and I could fix the computer problems and make things go, and the geek in me just went to town on that concept. And before I knew it I’d gotten an offer for an actual job. You know, one with a salary and health insurance and a 401k and sick days and vacation days, and a cubicle with my name on a nameplate.
I had scoffed at the idea of wanting such a thing, once upon a time… but then, there I was, a young wife in my early twenties, with goals and dreams and all kinds of things like that. And when I was offered the princely sum of $27,500 a year plus benefits, dude, the truth is I was all over that. Plus! Imagine! If I was sick? I could take a sick day. And instead of not getting paid, that was… you know, part of the deal. And I would get a paycheck like clockwork. Just for troubleshooting and making computers do things. Easy work, interesting work, work with a future and a growth path. I would have been crazy not to do it.
It worked out pretty well for me for a while. I was pretty decent at it, and it was in-demand work. It was rewarding. My involvement in that field outlasted that marriage, even. I kept progressing, learning new things, doing new stuff, earning better wages. It was a good and rewarding career. I met a new fella. We had a kid. And that’s when things changed for me professionally.
Part of it was certainly because of choices I made, like the one to seek out some sort of telecommuting option that would let me work a regular job, doing computer stuff, from home, while taking care of the new baby. I made a lot of compromises to score a gig like that, and I made it work. It wasn’t easy, but, whatever, I pulled it off. Still though, even after several years and with a toddler in preschool and me in the office all the time, I’d been mommy tracked. My career growth stalled entirely. There are a ton of complex reasons for this as I see it, but it’s not relevant to the whole picture I’m trying to paint, except in that it serves to illustrate where I was: a decade and change into a career I had loved and for which I’d been very hopeful, but that ultimately was just not panning out.
Thing is, I could hardly say it wasn’t panning out at all, given that I made a nice salary and had great benefits and all of that sort of thing. No way in hell could I look a waitress or a musician or a freelance writer in the eye and say “Yeah but it sucks having a dependable paycheck and health insurance and honest to God sick days, plus I never seem to be able to find a way to use up my vacation time, and I can’t get promoted or do interesting things or even apparently find a new job someplace else.”
So I stuck it out, even though every day I’d get up in the morning and literally cry in the bathroom because I had to go to my depressing dead-end job that shouldn’t have been a dead end but was. I would sit in my cubicle performing data drudgery I’d agreed to handle on a temporary basis years before, growing more and more depressed about the meaninglessness of it, watching fresh-faced young males straight out of college get hired and be assigned the projects I’d been told I would be working on if I just emptied the bitbucket for a couple more months. Year in, year out.
God, I shudder in reflection to think that it was really almost five years I spent trying to either turn that job around for me or find a new one. But it was a dot-com slump in 2001 when I started that process. And I no longer fit the twentysomething geekgirl image that had existed for me to fall right into in the 1990s. I was thirtysomething and somebody’s mom. Dude, everyone knows moms are the mortal enemy of the geek. Duh.
A lot was hard about that timeframe; for instance, my father came down with cancer and died a few weeks after his 59th birthday. That sucked. My job sucking made that suck more, and vice versa, and then the overall suck level just kept going up. And up. And up. And by the time three or four years had gone on like that, the only way that I withstood it all was by getting to the end of my work day and investing time in yarn-related projects. The textile pursuits had always been there, but it was never something I intended to make a career. It hadn’t been enough of a living for my parents, and let me tell you, that’s saying something, because my parents were field anthropologists and everybody knows that’s not a living at all.
So people — well-meaning — would say things like “You should see if you can’t do something with yarn and make a living that way.” Which when you’re living in Silicon Valley in the 2000s, well, it’s frankly laughable. The same people would then say things like “I mean I’d probably pay $50 for that sweater you’re wearing right now,” when that’s, you know, an hour of their time staffing a help desk and asking a caller if the caps lock key is on. No, making a living as a fiber person was just… not possible. I was pretty sure of that.
But at the same time, people would ask me to teach them stuff. You know, yarn-related things. And I wanted to do that. If there were only some way to make that work. I mean there was no chance living on Silicon Valley where if you were lucky you could rent a one-bedroom apartment for around a grand. And I had responsibilities. So no. And I couldn’t do it on the side, this yarn teaching thing, because there were too many schedule conflicts and just… no time.
But eventually, in early 2006, we decided to move. I quit that job. You heard me. I quit it. And I didn’t look for a new job. Instead, I became — for the first time in my adult life — totally dependent on my partner’s income, while trying to figure out a way to squeeze a living out of knowing a lot of stuff about yarn and yarn-related pursuits. It was a crazy idea. But five years ago today, I launched abbysyarns.com.
I can’t say it feels like five years. But then again maybe I just don’t know what five years feels like.
Five years ago, I sold handspun yarn and spinning fiber on eBay, as a short-term quick solution. I started gathering up things I had written about yarn, and getting them in some sort of shape to put online. I considered opening a brick and mortar yarn store. I ruled that out on the grounds that it was unlikely I could make that generate take-home revenue in 5 years or less, and that it would tie me down such that it would be hard to travel and teach. So I made stuff to sell, and I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, and tried to picture how this could all work out to be a living.
Since then, I’ve written all kinds of stuff for publication. I’ve developed products that people like and that work as products. I’ve taught… I’ve taught a lot of people, in a lot of places. I wrote a book. I made some DVDs. And somehow, with perseverance and determination I suppose, here I am at the five year mark, and I’m making a living. I don’t have sick days; I don’t have a 401k. I don’t get paid time off or vacation. I don’t accrue seniority. I can’t count on raises for doing my job well. I don’t have my own health insurance. I don’t get regular paychecks.
But let me tell you the really important “I don’ts.” I don’t get depressed as hell knowing that it doesn’t matter what I do today, or tomorrow, or the day after that, with no hope of change in the future. I don’t get angry and frustrated because my boss strung me along. I don’t worry that I’ll be laid off or downsized or office-politicked to destitution and ruin.
And perhaps most important of all is this: since I have made the leap of faith to do this yarn thing, not a week goes by that I don’t hear from someone who says “Hey, thank you — I learned this from you, and it makes a difference.”
No. Thank YOU. I couldn’t do it without you. It’s been hard work, and I’m proud, but if it weren’t for all of you, I wouldn’t be here today doing this.
So if you’ve read this far, I’d like to know: do you have a favourite post or posts from the past 5 years? Something you’ve saved or referred to? Something that really interested you? Or was it a class, or an article elsewhere, or something like that? If so, I would love to hear which it is. Because suddenly I look back at five years and think, wow, how did I get here?
That’s right; I’m leaving you with a song.