Aug 05, 2020

Reclaiming Our Creativity, with Melanie Falick

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Melanie Falick is an independent writer, editor, and creative director--and a lifelong maker. She is the author, most recently, of Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live, named one of the best books of 2019 by Publishers Weekly. She is also the host of Making a Life: The Conversation, a new online series designed to generate lively and inspiring discourse about making by hand—and creative expression more generally—and their vital impact on our well-being in the 21st century. She is the former publishing director of STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books, an imprint of Abrams, where she published works by many of the DIY world’s most esteemed authors. She lives with her family in New York's Hudson River Valley.

A Message From Melanie: 

“If we write down the whispers in our head about the different things (big and small) we really want to do, then we can refer back to that to remind ourselves what we really want. But what if we went further? What if we marketed and advertised those ideas to ourselves? We can make signs and post them around the house or on a sticky note adhered to our phone. What else?

Right now we are so responsive to the marketing of others telling us what we want/need (from coffee, to cars, to which Netflix series to watch). We can counter that by marketing to ourselves. This idea fits into a new book idea I’m working on but I figured I’d share it with you because it seems like something that might resonate with you personally as you try to slow down and take a break.”

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Melanie outlines how early lessons from her family impacted her views on making by hand, and creativity
  • How Melanie made the important realization that she needed to feel connected to her own survival by doing things for herself and making things by hand 
  • How Melanie connected with the inspiration and community of the featured artists for her book Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live
  • Why our modern expectation that we work at the pace of machines has had a major impact on our lifestyles and wellbeing, and how we can reconnect with our humanity in a way that is life-giving and renewing
  • Why we too often internalize stories about our lack of skill and talent when the enjoyment of our own creativity is the most important thing, not a judgement on the outcome as good or not good
  • What advice Melanie has for marketers and business professionals about reclaiming their creativity and rebalancing themselves

Additional resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro: Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich: Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. I am thrilled to have Melanie Falick as my guest today. Melanie is a writer, editor, and creative director. I'm going to let her introduce herself. She's also a lifelong maker and recently published Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live, which was named one of the best books of 2019 by Publishers Weekly. So, I'm really excited to talk to her today about creativity and making, and all of the wisdom that she has to share for those of us who primarily sit at our desks all day. So, welcome to the podcast, Melanie. Thank you for being here today.

Melanie Falick: Thanks for having me.

Polly Yakovich: Can you go ahead and just give us a little bit of your bio and background. How did you start out doing what you're doing? Where has your career path taken you? I really always like to hear sort of the path.

Melanie Falick: Okay. Well, it's interesting because in a way, if you look at... When I remember back what I was like as a child, the markers were there. I grew up in a family where making by hand was an ordinary part of everyday life, sometimes because there were financial issues and there was a reason to make something as opposed to buy it, or do something yourself as opposed to hire somebody else. But the message that I got more than anything was that making by hand was a really pleasurable thing. It was not drudgery, and as my parents grew up, I guess, and as their careers evolved, certainly the financial part of it became sort of less relevant, but making by hand did not become less prevalent in our lives. My father taught architecture and engineering, but he also did tons of landscaping and gardening and painting, and sculpting and building things, and my mom made all my clothes.

Polly Yakovich: Amazing.

Melanie Falick: Not all my clothes. She made a lot of my clothes when I was quite young, and then, just through the years, knitted things for me or crocheted, and I think she crocheted a navy blue poncho for me. I remember that.

Polly Yakovich: Nice. That's great.

Melanie Falick: Yellow-pink sweater. I picked the yarn. She just did it because she liked it. I remember my grandmother who taught me how to knit, she had sort of a shopping bag full of her knitting project, and I had an aunt who made crocheted hats, and now I have a box of doilies and... What do you call it? What's the things that men put in their...

Polly Yakovich: Oh yeah, like a pocket square, handkerchief.

Melanie Falick: Yeah, no, handkerchiefs. So, I have handkerchiefs that my grandmother and her sisters made, and I don't think they were actually amazingly talented at handwork, I just always got the impression that they did it because perhaps that's what one did when they were young, but also because they liked it. Then, separate from that, I was always a good writer, and I don't know why I think I've... Everybody's sort of born with different talents, and I always got a lot of positive feedback from people about my writing, so it made sense that I did more of it and liked to do it, because who doesn't like positive feedback? When I went to college I actually studied French and linguistics. I was not thinking that much about writing. I actually had an idea that I would travel the world and teach English.

Polly Yakovich: Oh, nice.

Melanie Falick: I did travel quite a bit in college and afterwards and did several different study abroad programs, and I really think that one of them in which I studied and lived with families in Kenya, Egypt, and Israel was the most impactful because what we were studying was cultural anthropology, and it was really what people do in their daily lives and how what they choose to present to the public or to tourists and to each other kind of tells you about their history and their culture and their belief systems. So, after college I worked for a year at an international foundation in Washington DC, and then I moved to New York City and I decided I wanted to work in publishing, and ultimately...

Melanie Falick: First I worked for a food magazine, and then I started knitting just... I'd learned as a kid, but not really pursued it, and then I decided to come... Well, I decided to go to a yarn store, and then I was completely... I don't know if overwhelmed is the word. Inspired by the yarns that I saw, the colors and the textures, and I just said, "Oh my gosh, I want to do this." So, I started doing it and became really interested in not only how to knit, but how you can look at our own culture and other cultures and what the knitting tells you, and in particular, that tells you a lot about women's lives, and it tells you a lot about a history that we don't generally see recorded in the history books that we use at school.

Melanie Falick: So, it became kind of a lens through which to look at women and women's lives in different cultures, and then I ended up doing some work for an antique quilt dealer, and I kind of had that same perspective, and then I really wanted to combine my evolving career in publishing with my interest in handwork and creativity and women's lives. So, kind of kept on thinking about different ways of doing that, and then I had the idea for what became my first book, which was called Knitting in America, and for that I traveled around the country and met knitters and people who raise animals and plants for fiber, and do different kinds of dyeing, and I wrote about their lives and what they created, and really, following their bliss and network for them.

Melanie Falick: That book, which came out in 1996, was really at the very, very, very, very beginnings of this boom and interest in knitting in this country, and that led to me writing another book called Kids Knitting to teach kids how to knit, and then other things, and then I became the editor of a knitting magazine, and then I started working for Abrams, which is a book publisher, and I had my own imprint which was called STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books. Through that imprint I was able to publish books on all sorts of topics related to handwork and creative living, and I was there for 12 years, and I think I published over 100 different books.

Polly Yakovich: That's amazing.

Melanie Falick: That was a great experience, but I... That was really mostly... Not completely, but mostly focused on what we make and how we make it, but not why we make things, and so in... I think it was 2015 I left, which was really scary, because I left this fancy position, I guess, having my own imprint, and I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I just knew that the way I was living was not feeling in sync with my values, and I was kind of like a plumber with leaky pipes, just writing or publishing books about craft and creativity, and I really wanted to publish those books as a way to celebrate the value of them, but I wasn't...

Melanie Falick: Not only was I not having a lot of time to do that kind of work on my own, but I wasn't even... I didn't even have time to mow my lawn or [crosstalk 00:08:41] my garden, or learn how to rewire a lamp that I wanted to wire. I just realized that I felt like I was walking around with my hands tied behind my back, that I was unhappy and dissatisfied, and literally, when I imagined in my head myself, I saw myself with my hands tied behind my back. So, I just felt like I had to leave, and so I organized things so that I had some income coming in, flowing in so that... And that was important, and my husband got a job where he was able to provide health insurance.

Polly Yakovich: Oh, nice.

Melanie Falick: So, that was key. I remember the day, my first day of officially not working for Abrams, and I remember going outside in the garden, and I was probably picking some weeds or something, and I just had this thought of anything is possible, and it felt so exciting, and I just decided to just follow my nose, and I just started making things with my hands, small things. Trying to remember. I did some Shibori dyeing, I made some leather bracelets, I learned to lattice lace my sneakers, which was fun.

Polly Yakovich: That's awesome.

Melanie Falick: Yeah. One day I learned how to fold a piece of paper into a box, and I just was really kind of amazed by that, that I could take a square piece of paper and just with a few strategic folds make a receptacle that could hold something valuable, and it felt kind of primal. It felt like really take care of myself in the same way that if I could knit my own sweater or build my own shelter, or my own food, or grow my own vegetables, these were all connected to survival, and I realized that wanting to feel connected to my survival was the key to everything.

Melanie Falick: That was what I was longing for, and I was spending my day mostly on a computer when I didn't have time to mow my lawn, when our culture was telling me, "Oh, if you're successful, you can hire someone to tend your garden or mow your lawns." But wait a minute, I don't want to. I want to get my hands dirty. I want to understand how things work. I still to this day, because I don't understand how a lot of things work, I don't like that. I like when I can rewire a lamp, and I did it once, but with the help of someone. But that feels really good.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, it feels successful.

Melanie Falick: Yeah. It's a good feeling, and so after I made that box and I was able to kind of put the pieces together in my head, I realized that what I wanted to do was kind of explore this question of why we make things by hand even at a time where it's not necessary for our physical survival, and why we continue to make things beautiful even when sort of plain or not aesthetically pleasing would suffice in terms of functionality, and why there is this current sort of increased interest in the DIY world. So, I came up with the idea for the book which allowed me to travel and meet people and explore this subject really intensely. For that I feel incredibly grateful because it helped me to reassess how I was living and to really make my sort of goals and values really in sync with my everyday life, and that feels good.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. What was the process for the book? Talk to us a little bit about where you went, how you found people, what you observed or talked to them about.

Melanie Falick: Yeah. The process, it was a little... It was very organic. I had ideas that I wanted to pursue, and I think the most significant idea at the beginning was this idea that making by hand and making the ordinary extraordinary come to us through evolution, and that they are our evolutionary birthright. I began the book with an interview with a woman named Ellen Dissanayake, who is an academic scholar who's been studying those subjects for over 50 years, and I knew Ellen. I hadn't met her in person, but I met her through letters when I was working on my first book, Knitting in America, so she was one of the first ones that I contacted, and I ended up going out to Seattle to spend time with her, and the book begins with a Q&A with her, because I really feel like that idea of this being an evolutionary birthright is important and is at the base of everything that I wrote about.

Melanie Falick: So, it started with that, and then I kind of just kept on putting myself into different positions where I would be with makers, communicating with them in person or through email, or reading their books or looking at their Instagram accounts, and talking to people and just getting all sorts of recommendations. I wasn't really sure how I was going to organize the book, but I just kind of saw what opportunities first came my way, and I was given the opportunity to go to India with a homeowners company, and that was really important, and it was sort of by happenstance, not because I had planned it out.

Melanie Falick: I mean, I just felt really lucky that I got this invitation to go, and that was so significant because I really was able to observe what it means to make by hand in another culture, in one where making by hand happens very often in a factory setting, what that means and how that differs from the making by hand that I was doing. I just kind of followed my nose from one thing that interested me to another thing that interested me, from people who caught my attention, and it's pretty amazing to me now that somehow deep down inside of myself I understood something that I couldn't articulate until it all came together. And I ended up doing a lot of the research for the book before I knew how it was going to be organized, and I decided to break it down into five chapters, and they are based upon what we stand to gain from making by hand in the 21st century.

Melanie Falick: So, they are remembering, slowing down, joining hands, making a home and finding a voice. So, remembering is kind of remembering our ancestors, remembering our connection to nature, which in our culture are easy to forget. There is this idea that progress is about moving forward. There is this idea that we are more powerful than nature or that we can somehow control the natural world, or we are superior to the plants or the animals. But the more that you explore what has happened before, the more in awe you feel about everything that's happened without our intervention.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Absolutely.

Melanie Falick: One thing I think about a lot is that for tens of thousands of years, making by hand was what we did to survive. We did make our food or grow our food, and gather our food. We did make our shelters, we did make our clothing. If we needed to protect our feet we made our own shoes, and it was only in the Industrial Revolution, which in Europe and North America started in the late 18th century, that machines started to sort of take over the handwork. So, if you think about how we're wired inside, the fact that we still feel drawn to making by hand or making the ordinary extraordinary makes sense.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Absolutely.

Melanie Falick: Then, the second chapter is slowing down, and that's the idea that we can and maybe ought to slow down, and that when the Industrial Revolution happened we began, as human beings, to be asked to work at the pace of machines, which we often could run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That changed our lifestyle so profoundly, and there's lots of great things about machines. I'm not anti-machine.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, absolutely.

Melanie Falick: [crosstalk 00:18:48] we need to be really conscious of the tools that we create with our minds and bodies, and then how those tools actually change us.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, or shape our expectations. It's so funny, I've never actually heard that before, but it's so interesting because I say to my therapist all the time, "I feel like I'm a machine. I need to get out of here. I can't keep up with this pace."

Melanie Falick: Yeah, I used to say when I was doing my job at the publisher, I felt like I was on this crazy ride at the carnival and it was just going around and around, and somehow the guy on the ground who was supposed to slow it down and turn it off had left.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Absolutely.

Melanie Falick: And the only way to get off and to stop feeling dizzy and nauseous was to jump, and it was scary to jump.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Absolutely. That's a great analogy.

Melanie Falick: Yeah, but I feel like when you do jump, I do think the universe kind of creates...

Polly Yakovich: Catches you.

Melanie Falick: Catches you. We're sort of taught to worry about jumping. I mean, I was so obsessed with oh, but my employer is matching my 401k, how can I give that up? That's free money or something. And then I realized I'm so worried about my retirement that I'm not actually living in the here and now, that I actually don't [inaudible 00:20:14] in the here and now, and that I needed to create a better balance between that. I needed to, of course, think about being secure in the future, but I really also needed to think about what my definition of secure... What did I really need for the future, and then what did I need for right now? Anyway, so the slowing down chapter deals with that, and just to move on from the Industrial Revolution, the Digital Revolution just... I mean, in terms of things moving quickly, that has just really made us into... You said you feel like a machine. It's like, to try to keep up with...

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Like a supercomputer.

Melanie Falick: A supercomputer, we can't. So, it's not surprising to me that so many people feel unwell, but there is a solution to that, and it is... And working by hand, doing things with our hands, being more closely connected to one another and to nature are ways of reconnecting with our true selves. So, the third chapter is joining hands, and that's about finding people who are passionate about what you're passionate about, and because we don't live very... Most of us don't live in a small village where we're interconnected in terms of our survival or our social lives with our neighbors.

Melanie Falick: Most of us are not interacting with our neighbors that much, or caring for each other, that we can find community in other ways, and oftentimes if you are interested in something in particular that can be making by hand, like knitting, sewing, woodworking, ceramics, whatever, you can both meet people in your own sort of physical community in your own region of the world. But you can also meet people all over the world in your travels, literal travel and also virtual travels. So, in this way, the internet has been a real service to makers because we can connect online and learn about each other and become friends and all of that.

Melanie Falick: But we can also travel to another part of this country or around the world and immediately have connection. I feel like the fact that I could define myself as a writer opened so many doors for me because I have been able to travel quite extensively in the world and say, "Hey, I'm writing this book. Can I come over and talk to you about what you're doing?" Also, if you're a knitter, because that is so portable, or a crocheter or anything that's portable, you can sit down in a park almost anywhere, and people will come and converse with you. Some people will speak your language, some people won't, but you can still communicate. So, it is a real connector, especially at a time when so many people are so lonely, and loneliness is... I read a study that loneliness is considered as much of a predictor of illness or death as heart disease.

Polly Yakovich: Wow. That's crazy.

Melanie Falick: But I meet so many people who are so vibrant, and I've just been talking to members of the African American Quilt Guild of Oakland about an online event I'm hoping to do with them, and I wrote about them in my book, and these women are so engaged with their quilting and with each other, and some of them have said, "Oh, I have so many quilts to make, I can't... I've got to get through all my fabrics," so I have just blab an older woman, and it really does give you...

Polly Yakovich: Motivation.

Melanie Falick: Motivation. You have this community. You don't feel lonely and you have this feeling of purpose. So, then the fourth chapter is Making a Home, and by that I mean literally a physical home, and so much of what we do with our hands is about that, but also, feeling at home in our own skin. When you do slow down and do something with your hands, and it could be as simple as doodling, which we can all do, or weaving potholders like you did in...

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Gosh, I loved that.

Melanie Falick: [inaudible 00:24:50].

Polly Yakovich: That brings back such good memories.

Melanie Falick: Yeah. The finger painting. All of that stuff, there is... It does feel like an exhale. It does bring a certain sort of joy into your being, and yet sometimes people will sort of say that they're... They'll downplay it as sort of silly or immature, or they're... I don't know what. They'll just downplay it, and I don't really understand that. I think that finger painting is fun, and it's really cool to see what you can do with your fingers, and it's fun to have dirty hands sometimes.

Melanie Falick: Why do we really encourage young children to be creative and to do all this stuff with their hands, or even performance, to dance, to sing, to create plays and show them to us, perform them for us, and then, as they get older, we start telling them, "Well, now it's time to get serious," and what does getting serious mean? Does that mean getting ready to get a job and support yourself and make a living and do... I don't know, do important work. Of course we all need to be able to have a safe place to live, we need to be able to have food to eat, we need to have access to education, but that doesn't need to replace this natural impulse to be creative, and I think that when we don't have a path for creative expression, it's like a stopped up pipe.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, I feel like we're such an either-or society. There's no and.

Melanie Falick: Yeah. Exactly, so the final chapter is Finding a Voice, and so that is this idea that creative expression is integral to our wellness, and that through handwork we can express ourselves, and it's interesting because one of the things that I learned while working on the book... And obviously, I'm a writer. I was using words as my tool of expression, but there was so much in non-verbal expression that actually helped me to be a better writer, and that there are all... It made me understand abstract art in a way that I think I didn't before, because if we... It doesn't always have to be pictorial, or we don't always have to have words to explain something.

Melanie Falick: Sometimes it is a sensory experience, and I think we've gotten to this point where people... If they don't have words to explain it, then it somehow doesn't count, it's not legitimate, or it's ignored, and I mean, I think if you look at classical music, that's probably an area more than many others where we're willing to accept that there aren't words. You listen to it and you feel something, and I think composers are expressing something, and so I've really started to look at my writing practice in a different way, and I've really been able to recognize the value and the importance of non-verbal expression as a way for me to progress as a writer and also to be a happier human being.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. What do you think, for those of us who are sort of still on the ride that you jumped off of... How do we rebalance ourselves? What are we missing when we don't have a connection to working with our hands or making something, or expressing our creativity?

Melanie Falick: Yeah, and not everybody is going to choose to make with their hands. Some people are going to choose different forms of creative expression. The way that I started was I just started listening to what I call the whispers in my head of all the things that I'm like, oh, I've always wanted to do this, I've always wanted to do that, and I call it the whisper list. I tried to kind of just have it be stream of consciousness. I try to not edit myself and add in sort of all sorts of charitable activities to let it be kind of...

Polly Yakovich: More valuable?

Melanie Falick: Well, selfish, in a way, because when I printed my first list it was like, "I want to go to India. I want to learn how to make pickles. I want to learn how to pitch a tent. I want to learn Adobe Illustrator." It was all I, I, I, and then, when I started editing myself, it's like, oh, I should make it more to do things for other people, but I think this exercise is not about that part of who you are. It's really just about the voices in your head, and I used to think, in the summer when I would see cucumbers and I'd think oh, I really want to learn how to make pickles one day, but I probably... That whisper in my head that probably went on for 15 years.

Melanie Falick: It was just always a whisper, and so I wrote them down. I'm not sure if I wrote it on paper. I might have typed it in a file, but I think I did write it down. And I just looked at my list and I just thought, well, what's stopping me? When I was in... It was a more than a 9:00 to 5:00 job, but in that structure, obviously, my time was limited, but I was able to look at it and just say, "I can do some of this, I just need to make it a priority," and it needs to be a priority over some other things which might be... When I feel tired at the end of the day and I think oh, I'll just turn on Netflix and watch something, or when somebody says, "Do you want to go see this movie?" And I think sure. The truth is, I didn't really... I was going to see that movie, but why not?

Melanie Falick: So, I think writing it down, those whispers really helps you to have them not be whispers anymore, and to get to the point in your life where they're not just whispers in your head, but you're saying them out loud to yourself, to your family, to your friends. That is helpful in prioritizing, and I became... Everybody would listen to me. When I was getting ready to leave my job, it was like, if not now, when? What are you waiting for? I think that our culture tells us very often that we need more money, we need more stuff. It kind of sets us up...

Melanie Falick: I mean, I think it works in capitalism to sort of make you think that you need more success, I mean you need more stuff, and you need more symbols of success. You need this kind of car or you need that kind of pocketbook, or if you don't feel well, you go shopping. But things are, yeah, all bandaids and they separate us from those whispers of what we truly want, and it's funny how those whispers... The answer is right... Oftentimes if you have those basic needs of a safe place to live, healthy food, access to education, access to healthcare, somehow there's this internal wisdom that knows what you want and knows what you need.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, I think that's so true.

Melanie Falick: Yeah, and I started to say this before when you asked me about writing the book, and I said it was really organic, and I had, certainly, some direction and ideas, but I wasn't sure how I was going to organize it. It was scary and there was definitely a time when I was like, I'm not doing it, I'm giving the advance back to the publisher. I'm not doing it. I think I had some good friends who kind of talked me off that ledge, but I was scared and I didn't know what to do, and I wasn't sure that I could be successful. Fear definitely plays games with your creativity. It's sort of, don't take a chance, just stick where you are. But somehow there must have been this internal wisdom that directed me and said, "Yes, go in this trip to India. Yes, go on this trip to Oaxaca. Yes, get over your fear and send an email to this maker who you've always been in awe of and you feel embarrassed to contact, or are intimidated by. Just stand up straight and step forward and do it."

Polly Yakovich: What do you think about... I mean, I think when I tap into my inner wisdom I know different answers, but on the surface of it, what do you think about this idea that... So, I feel very surrounded by artistry, but because I wasn't as creative as them, I feel like I have creative people in my family and in my life. My husband's a chef, I think he's an artist. But when you don't have sort of that same level of raw skill, I think you do get funneled into something else, and it's like, you're not creative, you're this. What do you think about that idea of creativity as the core of all of our humanity and this connection like you were talking about with our ancestors and our world?

Melanie Falick: Well, I think that we're all creative. I mean, creativity is... I mean, I've thought about what is the definition... I mean, it's kind of problem-solving, so we all have that, and I think... I said that I was supported as a writer. That came to me naturally, and I got a lot of positive feedback, so I pursued that. I mean, I was little, my parents were always doing stuff, but I didn't take art classes. It was part of my life in that it was just around me, but I wasn't really pushed in that direction at all like somebody else who was always drawing was really quote unquote good at it. I think that based on sort of our experiences when we're young, there are these stories that we tell ourselves about oh, I'm not good at that, or I'm not creative, or I shouldn't paint because my best friend is so good at it and she can make things that look like... She can paint a car and it looks like a car, and mine doesn't look like a car.

Melanie Falick: But I think there's two parts to it. One, we told ourselves these stories at a very young age when we really didn't have a broad view of the world and of ourselves, and sometimes we were told them by other mean kids who laughed at us or whatever, but somehow they're still in us and we really need to think about why we're allowing those to guide our lives as adults. Then, the other thing is what is good at it? What does that mean? I have a friend who once said to me, "Oh, I'm thinking about doing more beading. I have all these beads, but you know what? I don't know if I should, because I'm not very good at it." I said, "Well, what does being good at it have to do with it? Do you enjoy it?"

Polly Yakovich: I feel like that is just a key that's so lost for most people.

Melanie Falick: Yeah, it's all about the process. Knitters don't generally, in this country, for sure... I'm not knitting a sweater or a hat because I desperately need a sweater or a hat. If I'm knitting it it's because of the process. I hand stitch clothing, and they'll say, "Oh my gosh, how long does it take? What do you like about it?" And it's like, it's really slow. That's what I like best about it. Yeah, I like wearing something that I've made. I like knowing that seams are strong because I made them strong. But I do it because I love the process, and yeah, I mean, sometimes when something doesn't turn out well, by my opinion well, that could be a bummer, but for the most part, I'm doing it because it is my lifeline, it is what makes me feel like me and makes me feel whole, and it makes me feel connected to my past, my present, and potentially the future in that something I might endure and hand down to some of my future-

Polly Yakovich: I feel like... Go ahead.

Melanie Falick: No, it connects me to the earth. The materials that I use come from the earth, and it helps me to sort of care about. It helps me to recognize my inter relationship with nature, and by doing that, really caring and understanding that we need to treat the natural world well.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. For me I feel like it's such an important reminder that we really need to reclaim enjoyment and what it really does for us in our brain. I can't be productive all the time in an effective way. I need to do things just for fun, but we do get really caught up in but what if it doesn't look right, or what if it doesn't matter, or what if it takes too long? I mean, we're just... We've lost the enjoyment piece, or the recovery piece, for those of us who sit at a desk or are on planes, you know?

Melanie Falick: And I think that's... When we were talking about we create these tools, now we have computers and the internet, and then they change us. They've created these expectations within ourselves that are not sustainable.

Polly Yakovich: Well, they've changed us, but as humans, we haven't really changed. We still have the same...

Melanie Falick: Well, they changed our expectations of ourselves, and yeah, it's hard. I mean, I have that same issue that you were mentioning about productivity, and I do... I love creating order, I love being productive. But just being present is the most important, and that seems to be the part of our humanity that is hardest for us to hold on to.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. What advice would you give to somebody who... I mean, like me, I've been working so hard so long, and when you're an entrepreneur and you're building businesses, I'm actually on the verge of a three-week break because I'm just feeling burnt out. I feel like my brain has nothing left. So, what do you think is the antidote to not get to that point for somebody who's a marketer, a business person working in an office? What advice would you give? What advice do you give your friends that are in those kinds of roles to keep their selves sane and balanced?

Melanie Falick: It feels like such a broad question I can only-

Polly Yakovich: It is.

Melanie Falick: ... give really little ideas. I can start with that list of those whispers in your head and sort of referring to that. One thing that I do is I'll just put colored pencils on the porch, or sometimes I'll just start a really small knitting project, just making a washcloth or something, something that's easy for me, and have that around. So, it's kind of when I don't know what to do with myself, instead of picking up my phone and looking at likes on Instagram, which really seems like, I don't know, not a healthy thing to do, then I have something right there. The other thing, and this is really good, and I do rely on this a lot. It's much more difficult during pandemic, but getting together with friends, making an appointment to do something together, and I have friends that I've been getting together with once a week. Not once a week, one week out of the year where we spend a week together in this creative space and we just... We all bring whatever it is that we want to work on. Some people bring sewing machines, some people bring paints.

Polly Yakovich: Nice. That's amazing.

Melanie Falick: Yeah, and then we kind of share our skills with one another, but you can do that. You can just meet with a friend for two hours and hang out and whatever it is that you like to do where you can... I actually got together with a friend on Zoom a couple of weeks ago, and I needed some help with a sweater I was knitting. It was her design; she had come up with it and written the instructions, and I was confused, and I was almost finished and I was having a problem, and we just were on Zoom for an hour knitting together, and she helped me with it and I finished it, but it was... I mean, I kind of find Zoom shockingly intimate.

Melanie Falick: A friend of mine... I was on the phone with her the other day. We often think about oh, this is why I can't do something, so she was feeling not... She wasn't feeling good about her art practice, and she is an artist. She just felt like with this pandemic she just couldn't kind of get her groove going. Then I said, "Well, what's one small thing? What's a micro movement that could help you?" She said, "Well, it would be really good if my family just didn't interrupt me, if I just had some time to be in the studio."

Melanie Falick: She has children who are old enough to take care of themselves, not really young children, and she has a studio, and I said, "Well, okay, why don't you right now, while we're on the phone, why don't you write a sign? What hours do you want them to not interrupt you?" I said, "I want you to write it big. Just write whatever, no interruptions, and she said, "7:30 to 2:00." I was like, "Okay. Put that sign on the door of your studio. Just tell them they can't interrupt you," and she was like, "Oh. Okay. Yeah, I can do that. Thanks." And that so often for all of us...

Polly Yakovich: Almost like someone has to give you permission.

Melanie Falick: Yeah, or we think other people are mind readers, especially kids. They're running in and out. These kids are old enough. I mean, I don't know if they'll follow that or just be like, "Only one thing, Mom, one thing," but still, at least articulating that, creating a boundary for herself and sharing that with her family. For someone else, 7:30 to 2:00, that's good if you can get that much time to yourself. But it could be, for somebody else, 9:00 to 10:00 in the morning you just deal with your family. They're just not going to... You have your own time. So, I think this idea of micro movements.

Polly Yakovich: I like that.

Melanie Falick: I think a lot of people... This friend who got the art studio, she and her husband actually built their own home themselves. They designed and built it over the course of, I think, two years, and then so I remember talking to her about it. She's actually one of the people I wrote about in my book, and said, "How do you do that?" She said, "Well, you divide it into micro movements. What I did is I took a class on... " I don't know, something about designing one's own home, and then you just say, "Okay, the first thing we need to do is make a drawing." It's like, okay, let's make a drawing, and you just take it, and after two years they had a house that they could live in.

Polly Yakovich: Amazing. And then you used her own advice back on her.

Melanie Falick: Exactly, exactly.

Polly Yakovich: I love it. It's full circle.

Melanie Falick: You taught me about it.

Polly Yakovich: I love it.

Melanie Falick: Sometimes I work from home, and there are days when I just feel really kind of tired and lethargic and not able to sort of pick myself up by my bootstraps and do what I know is good for me. I'll try really hard to be like, "Okay, well, maybe just go out in the garden and cut a zinnia and put it in the box." Just that little thing, like oh, I could do that. So, I don't know.

Polly Yakovich: That's great.

Melanie Falick: I think that's good advice, and one other piece of advice I got from a woman named Nikki McClure, who I wrote about in the book, she's a papercut artist, and she said, "Make sure you touch the earth every day."

Polly Yakovich: Wow.

Melanie Falick: I thought about it and I think what I took... She might have said, "Touch the earth with your hands," and sometimes I will... Especially when I've been working on the computer a lot and totally in my head, here's a micro movement. It's like, I'm just going to step outside and kneel down and put my hand on the earth. You can feel, I don't know, the energy of the earth, and it just slows you down, quiets you down, and again, like I said before, I think there is inner wisdom that knows what we need to be doing, we just need to be kind of attuned to it. But there's also so much healing that I think Mother Nature can provide, and some days I feel like I'm not even going to walk around the block. People say, "Go for a walk." It's like, that's too much, but it's like, sometimes all I can do is walk down the front steps and put my hand on the grass, and it helps.

Polly Yakovich: I love it. That's amazing. Well, we're to the end of our time. I want to ask you just a couple more things. What are you working on now? Do you have any projects on the horizon? Are you just following the whispers?

Melanie Falick: Well, I'm trying to. I mean, I'm like everybody else and I sort of go back and forth between oh, I need more paying work, or I need to-

Polly Yakovich: Of course.

Melanie Falick: ... be doing something serious. I feel like with my book, Making a Life, I really put out some ideas that are important and started... Or ignited a conversation that people want to have, so I'm trying with a little bit of trepidation to establish an online conversation series called-

Polly Yakovich: Oh, great.

Melanie Falick: Making Life a Conversation.

Polly Yakovich: Nice.

Melanie Falick: We're using Zoom. We did our first event, I guess, almost two weeks ago, and we actually... Almost 500 people from around the world showed up.

Polly Yakovich: Wow.

Melanie Falick: Basically, I am inviting different people to join me for a conversation on Zoom, and then opening up that conversation a bit in the chat. It's in the very early stages. I'm planning the second one right now, and just saying it out loud to you kind of scares me because there's the part of me just like with the book where I'm like, I think this is a good idea, but it's really pushing me outside my comfort zone, and I'm not really sure where it's leading. But there's a part of me that won't let go of it and has me saying it out loud to you on this podcast, which makes it even more real. So, I feel like I outsource expectation, and then the expectation... I'll meet it. So, I'm working on that.

Polly Yakovich: How can people find or join that?

Melanie Falick: So, if they go to my website,, there's a place in the about section to sign up for my mailing list.

Polly Yakovich: Great.

Melanie Falick: There's a YouTube channel, which is another thing I never had until two weeks ago.

Polly Yakovich: Wow, that's great. I'm a big believer you're not missing anything; you can start any time.

Melanie Falick: Yeah. Absolutely, and if not now, when?

Polly Yakovich: Exactly.

Melanie Falick: So, there's the part of me that's like, and then maybe I'll shut the whole thing down.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, maybe you will. Yeah.

Melanie Falick: But I do feel like this is an important conversation, and a lot of people who read my book contact me and say how helpful it is to them, that it really helps them to sort of validate what they're doing and feel recognized and seen, and to sort of own the wisdom that they hold. I think especially with women and making by hand, and then just generally, like so many people, be like, "Oh, well, that's what you do as a hobby. You need to do something serious to make a living." It's not frivolous. It is a lifeline, and we need to talk about that, celebrate it, and push it forward, or not... Push it forward doesn't sound right. We need to share it, because I think that we can make our own lives better and we can make this world a healthier place to be overall.

Polly Yakovich: I love that. This is a question I close every one of my podcasts with, and I got it from a research friend of mine, but I'd really like to hear what people think is their superpower. If you could say, at the core of me, there's one thing that sort of makes me uniquely gifted to be me...

Melanie Falick: I think I have two things. The first one makes me feel a little bit anal, so nobody appreciates it, but I can create order out of anything.

Polly Yakovich: That is a superpower. That is not a superpower I have at all.

Melanie Falick: Yeah. I can look at a situation or a project and figure out how to get from A to Z efficiently. I always said about my education... I had really good grades, but I don't think I... This is sad. I don't think I always learned that much, but I knew how to get the job done. You tell me what the assignment is, and I will... You tell me how to get an A, and if I want an A, I will do that. I mean, part of that is that you sort of select which classes you're going to take or which [crosstalk 00:53:36] to take on. So, I think it's a really good skill to have, but it drives some other people crazy, because I do like to create order.

Melanie Falick: Then the other piece... This sounds strange, maybe, but I don't know how to say it except I do feel like I... Sometimes I can read people lines, and it's not that it's magic. I think it's more that I can connect with people and listen to their stories and take them really seriously, and explore beneath the surface and understand what drives them or what saddens them. When I was working on my book and I was interviewing a lot of people, oftentimes they would say, once we'd sort of gotten through a long session of it, "Wow, it feels like really good therapy."

Polly Yakovich: That's amazing. That is [crosstalk 00:54:40].

Melanie Falick: I've been told that even when I wasn't working on this book, or when I was working for Abrams and I would work with different authors and I would try so hard to understand their vision for what they wanted to create, why they wanted to create it, and sometimes it's like unearthing it. They hadn't articulated it, and so ultimately, it just seems like a real sensitivity to what goes on with people beneath the surface.

Polly Yakovich: That's amazing. Well, I hate to end our time. I've so enjoyed our chat, and it's out of the norm for this podcast, which is usually talking about business kinds of principles, but I think that this is such an important reminder for all of us, no matter what work we're doing, and so thank you for joining me. Where can people find you, stay connected? Obviously they can buy your book, hopefully through an independent bookstore.

Melanie Falick: Yeah, yeah.

Polly Yakovich: I'll put a link to that in the show notes as well. You mentioned your website. Is that where you primarily...

Melanie Falick: Yeah, the website is more just like a landing page. There is information about me and what I'm working on, but I don't update it all the time or anything, but it is a place to find me, and then I'm Melanie Falick on Instagram, I'm Melanie Falick on Facebook, and on Facebook I also started a Making a Life page.

Polly Yakovich: Great.

Melanie Falick: So, those are the main places where I'll tend to share what I'm up to.

Polly Yakovich: Great. I love it. Thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciated our chat.

Melanie Falick: Oh. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it too.

Polly Yakovich: Have a great one. Talk to you soon.

Melanie Falick: Bye.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of A Brave New Podcast. Go to for more resources and advice. If you enjoyed this episode, show us some love by subscribing, rating, and reviewing A Brave New Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Polly Yakovich

Polly Yakovich



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