stash (or, how i began writing my second book)

Cheryl Schulke of Stash.

Cheryl Schulke of Stash.

Last week, I began writing my second book in earnest. 

(It's a weird thing, beginning to write a second book.  In some ways, it feels far more difficult than writing a first book.  With a first book, you have the freedom of having no idea what you're doing, or any preconceived notions about how it should be done.  With a second book, however, it's a whole different ball game:  should it be similar to the way I did it before?  Completely different?  What worked with the first book?  If I force what worked in the first book into the second book, will it totally fall flat?  Should the format be completely unlike anything I've ever done before?  Should I go make myself a cheese sandwich?

It's a bit crazy-making.)

At this moment, this second book is going to be about creating and curating a good life, infusing it with purpose, and making use of your gifts and superpowers.  Similar to my first book, I'm planning on including the portraits and stories of people who have done just that:  people who lived a certain way, and suddenly realized that their life wasn't as fulfilling as they had hoped, so they radically changed how they lived to find more meaning, either professionally or personally.  My hope is that by sharing their diverse journeys, a person who buys the book  -- a reader who is at the cusp of radically changing his life -- would have in his hands something of a lovely guidebook, filled with prompts and advice and beautiful stories and imagery to help them along their journey.

This could be good, yes?

So yes, last week, I began to work on the book.  I wrote the introduction, which certainly helped crystallize what I'm hoping to do with this new project of mine, and I also conducted my first interview -- Cheryl Schulke, of Stash.  Cheryl is a bag-maker, and you might remember Cheryl from this post about what I want my work to feel like;  as I mentioned then, I was mesmerized by that video story of her business.  After I purchased one of her bags, I mentioned on Twitter how excited I was to receive it, when a mutual friend confided that she used to work with Cheryl "in a past life."

A past life

I had to know more. 

So on a whim, I sent Cheryl a copy of The Beauty of Different, and followed up with an email asking if she would be open to being interviewed and photographed for this second book.  To my happy astonishment, she agreed; and so last Friday, I climbed in my car and roadtripped out to Sealy, Texas, about 45 minutes west of Houston.

Stash is located in a huge, 100-year-old clapboard warehouse, one which used to be an old mattress factory (ever wonder where Sealy Mattresses got their name?  Well, now you know!).  Cheryl's family purchased the property back in the 1950s, and it has remained in the family; Cheryl's operation moved into the building a couple of years ago.  It's a wonderfully peaceful place, and it still has the cotton gins and a mattress or two from the olden days.

The old Haynes mattress factory, where Cheryl and her staff work.

The old Haynes mattress factory, where Cheryl and her staff work.

The Texas Historical Landmark Designation on the side of the building, with the story of the mattress factory.

The Texas Historical Landmark Designation on the side of the building, with the story of the mattress factory.

Cheryl, with one of the original old mattresses made in the factory back in the day.

Cheryl, with one of the original old mattresses made in the factory back in the day.

When I first walked into the factory, I literally gasped.  This huge place is so beautiful, filled with lights and colour and art, and it smelled deliciously of old fabrics and rich leather.

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The factory doesn't have any heat, so it was also decidedly cold. 

"Welcome," said Cheryl warmly, as she approached me with an outstretched hand.  "I know it's cold, so can I get you something?  Coffee? Tea?  Hot apple cider?"

And this is when I learned an important lesson, my friends, which I now impart to you:  if you ever walk into a beautiful, 100-year-old factory, one which, against all hope, you actually get to photograph, and the friendly proprietress offers you a steaming mug of hot apple cider?  For God's sake, accept it with deep gratitude.  For a split second I seriously wondered if I'd died and gone to heaven.

Cheryl poured us both hot cider, we settled in for the interview.  I won't divulge what she said here -- I have to save something for the book after all! -- but let me just say this:  there is something magical about being in a business where the owner is absolutely passionate about what she does, for reasons which have very little to do with money.  The fact is that Stash is an incredibly soulful place, and it shows in every product they make.

After a lengthy interview, Cheryl took me on a tour of the factory, where I met her team and watched them work.   And they patiently endured me photographing their every move, bless them, as they painstakingly created their beautiful leather goods, to be shipped all around the world.

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At the end of the tour, Cheryl suddenly said, "I want you to have this."  I looked at her outstretched hand.  She was offering me one of their new, beautifully handbound leather journals.

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"We created these so that people could write their own stories," she said. 

I took the journal (you know how I love a good journal).  "Thank you," I said, smiling gratefully.  "I think I'm going to use this solely for writing this book.  I have a feeling that it's going to give me a lot of inspiration."

"I hope so," responded Cheryl, smiling in return.  "I'm glad we met."

Man, so am I.  I can't wait to dive in and write Cheryl's amazing story.

SongRosanky by Will Johnson.  Occasionally, Stash holds concerts in this awesome space, and their most recent one was for Will Johnson.  A shame I missed it, man.


Incidentally, do you have a story of curating a beautiful life that you think might work for my book?  If so, if you'd like to share it, I'd love to hear it!  Please click here to fill out this confidential form -- if I think your story might work for the book, I'll be in touch. 

And thanks so much for your interest, friends.