Chickens and eggs

Oh Re: Craft & Relic, I’m very disappointed in you.

So when this show was pitched to me by the original second in command (they’re on their third one of those, btw. They’ve also changed their layout twice and raised their fees twice. Portentious, or merely noteworthy? For me, it’s starting to sound like people in way over their heads and scrambling. But what do I know.) it was pitched as a fine junk meets fine craft meets fine art arrangement. Which sounded AWESOME. And everyone I tell that to says it sounds awesome. And my neighbors 3 Wren Street, the pickers that I was back to back with for most of the times I’ve done the show,  and I found such sales mojo in that idea. People asked me “Where do you find all this stuff?” and I would turn and point to them, and people would ask them “What do you do with this kind of stuff?” and they would turn and point to me. It was wonderfully symbiotic and profitable for both of us.

The first couple of shows there was a good mix of the aforementioned species of vendor. Fewer fine artists than crafters or junkers but that was ok. It was still a category well represented. And I did alright there. Not bangarang by any means, but certainly worth going and worth committing early to the next date, even though it was a lower profit show because thanks to travel costs it was as expensive to do as Lakeview. But I had total faith in the vision of uniting under one roof all of the Things.

There are two main ways of running a show, broadly speaking. You can be strict about what sorts of vendors you have, trusting that the vibe you create will draw the crowd you want for the kind of event you want to have. And it will. It won’t pay off as quickly, and you have to do a lot more legwork, but if you build it, they will come. Or, you can just let a sort of Darwinism rule and the kinds of vendors who apply to your show will naturally slant towards whatever the crowd that’s handy wants, because that’s who does well there and keeps coming back. But you end up with more of a flea market than an art/craft show. Which is exactly what’s happened with Re:Craft & Relic. I was one of four fine artists this go around. There were few fine crafters (fine craft includes things like jewelry and body products/home products too), and everybody else was either a junker or people who quite clearly were doing the least amount of work possible for their products. So your event starts looking like a Hobby Lobby or a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store crossed with a flea market. The average demographic of your crowd starts moving towards older women and moms who are not looking to spend any more than $20 on anything. And the natural result is that the actual makers who can’t compete with people who aren’t making a damn thing stop doing your show.

So. Here we are, RC&R. I had me some real talk with your number 2, and it was not reassuring. She told me you never billed yourself as a fine arts venue, which isn’t entirely true, but isn’t entirely false either. She also gave me the, “Well, that’s what this area wants” kind of thing. Which is true, but doesn’t have to affect the show if you’re willing to put in the time. Franklin is a very churchy, conservative area. But Milwaukee is right next door, and Wisconsinites are extremely willing to drive to get to things, unlike Chicagoans. Traffic and parking in a city this size makes everyone want to stay within a few El stops of their homes, but Milwaukee and its environs is totally different. You can get a city crowd to come to BFE in Wisconsin, and they did at first. When they were actually trying.

Bottom line is, if this isn’t my crowd anymore, it’s not my crowd and that’s just something I have to deal with. But the total lack of discrimination when it comes to who they’re allowing to vend there is disappointing in the extreme. I would never in a million years knock a good flea market. If this were turning into one then I don’t belong there as a vendor but I would part with no regrets. That’s not what’s happening though. What’s happening is what happened to ren faire and so many other solid shows. They’re going profit over content, not being picky if the “handmade” is done in China, but still billing themselves as a show that promotes unique handmade goods. Those that are actually making such things are left to struggle to get their prices with people who are definitely not. And the majority of the crowd really doesn’t know the difference. All they see is something priced at $20 versus something priced at $40. Those who know and appreciate the difference stop coming to the show because there’s nothing they want. And so it goes.

Part of me thought it was too tasty a concept to work in the long run. I guess my skepticism was well warranted. Though it was groovy while it lasted. I’m still on the fence as to whether to give it one more go in November. I had been doing fine there right up until this time around. Though the vendor profile has changed rather abruptly.

But this kind of thing, in case anyone was curious, is why all of us makers of things are always hollerin’ shit like “buy local” and “pay the artists” from the rooftops. Because resellers will infiltrate the best of shows, and it’s important to know the difference between something someone made and something someone bought wholesale.

If you believe in handmade, walk your talk. Don’t patronize the shows that let a buncha mass produced crapola pass as art. Don’t be lied to. Support the arts by going to the shows that support the artists (slash crafters, slash fine junkers, slash upcyclers, slash insert word for not made in China here.)

 

“Doesn’t it suck if people don’t get into your art?”

It used to. I mean, it still does on a large enough scale, because this is how I make my living and if an entire show goes south that’s me having a pretty bad day. But on an individual level, like a person not getting into what I make, not anymore. At first I was really sensitive about it. I think that’s normal. I don’t know anyone making any kind of art that isn’t emotionally invested in it. But I feel like if you’re going to do this full time you need to disentangle your feels from the business end of selling your work.

The difference between opinion and critique is an important one. Lots of both will get thrown at you if you do…anything. Anything at all. Someone is going to have something to say about it. Some of it will be right on and some of it will be dookie. Some of it will be either/or, depending on where you stand. If what you’re doing is something you’re emotionally invested in, it gets even more complicated.

I started out as a crafter, so I’m no stranger to being told how wrong I’m doing something. You can’t learn to do a thing without screwing that thing up a few times, and your teacher is going to tell you about it. If they’re not a jerk they’ll do it pleasantly, but either way, you get used to being told what you did wrong and how it needs to be fixed. Opinion really didn’t factor into it. I was manufacturing someone else’s designs, and once I started doing it correctly, nobody had anything negative to say to me about it.

That all changed when I started making my own thing, and that thing was something with a subjective definition. I had to learn the difference between an opinion, “This sucks” and a critique, “The glue is sloppy”. And how to not get butt hurt about either one.

Opinions are awesome when they’re nice and hurtful when they’re not, but ultimately something I try not to get hung up on. I mean, I’m selling stuff, so I want to cultivate good opinions of me and my work, but I don’t let that be what validates me. The part I focus on are the happy customers. I’ve had customers say some of the most utterly humbling words to me about the effect my stuff had on them, or someone they love (and in the case of one therapist, on his patients). The kind that make ya almost tear up, and you’re all, “They are talking about someone much cooler than me”. That is life affirming shit, and will carry you through many “Is that supposed to be art?” kinds of interactions. Making art exposes some part of your inner life to the world for it to look at and judge. That’s just how art works. It feels very weird to have people treat the puzzle pieces of your heart like they’re shopping for tires or picking out a new set of highball glasses. Not everyone will, obviously. Some people will totally recognize heart parts. Some people’s own hearts will squee or cry when they recognize them and that’s an amazing thing.

Critiques on the other hand, are always useful, even when they’re off, or not applicable to whatever thing. It gives me a reality check. Makes me look at what I’m doing and reassess whether I’m doing it to the standards I want to be at. If someone has technical advice for you, listen. You don’t have to act on it if their advice isn’t useful, but listen. They may save you from reinventing the wheel at some point. Opinions though, you can learn to take or leave as you like.

 

Bucktown: Highlights, lowdowns and WTFs

The key phrase for Bucktown seems to be “Close, but no cigar”. The 100% volunteer run show is a sort of neighborhood arts organization, whose profits go to benefit arts programs in the area. Which is awesome. And it’s been this way since the 80s. Which is also awesome. The awesome might stop there, though.

Highlights: The enormous staff of volunteers was extremely present and helpful. These guys were swarming all over me like friendly ants, offering help with absolutely everything. There was never a point in the day when I didn’t see a Greenshirt wandering by. All these shows have volunteers and all volunteers tend to be super nice and willing, but I’ve never seen this many of them. So A for enthusiasm on that score.

Food at this show was both a blessing and a curse. It was nothing but food trucks for the most part. Which is awesome because you can get much more variety that way, and a better quality food. Food trucks are enormously difficult to keep in business in this city, so the ones that exist tend to be top notch. However, they are also redonk expensive. $10 for an (admittedly freakin’ delicious) alligator sausage is absurd, and who ever heard of a $4 taco? But overall I was very happy to have the kind of quality selection that the food trucks offered. Often at shows you have nothing to choose from but burgers, burgers and some burgers, or byol. Which, I don’t mind packing a lunch, but due to space issues I prefer to have to bring as little from home as I can get away with.

Lowdowns: I had heard load in at this show described as “gross”. Understatement of the month. The downpour didn’t help, but that’s nobody’s fault. HOWEVER, having 200 vendors loading in, food trucks jockeying for position, stages being set up, fencing being delivered and assembled and porta potties being offloaded and filled all at the same ignorant ass hour of the morning in a residential neighborhood is craptacular to a fine degree. The storm was, at that point, just icing. When I asked, the lack of Friday setup was blamed on zoning, but I don’t buy it. You can get anything blocked off in this city for enough cashola and at $350 for a spot and only volunteers (that is, people not getting paid) running this rodeo, nobody gets to tell me they don’t have any. If Glenwood can do it with $100 a head, then nobody has any excuse. Not to mention that I think if you asked the neighbors, most of whom seemed to be pushing double strollers, they’d really rather all the noise happened at a decent hour. Note to self: buy galoshes and a proper raincoat. I managed to get through 22 years doing outdoor shows without either one. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Alas, load in wasn’t the only con on this show’s balance sheet. I was placed in an experimental row of booths that had formerly been the food truck area. It was a funny little cul de sac that you had to be standing in front of to notice was there, that was weirdly blocked off by the barriers they had set up in awkward fashion to corral the food area. Stated mission was to keep beer drinking restricted to the area of the food and stage, though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. People like to wander and shop with their beer. People drinking beer shop more. Everybody wins. The logic of restricting the beer baffled me. The layout logic of my row also baffled me. It baffled the crowd too, obviously, as very little of it found my row of shops. At least one of the other vendors was so completely pissed off about it that he spent the weekend berating every Greenshirt he could grab, and trying to enlist the rest of the row to, I dunno, revolt I guess. My attitude was a more relaxed one. I had a Greenshirt actually thank me for having such a great attitude about it. I guess they were getting it from more than the one pissed off guy. But while I refuse to shoot the messenger, neither did I have the compassion of the Buddha about the whole thing. I thought it was all piss poorly organized from top to bottom. Because of this layout, I have no clue as to whether the crowd was good or not, so little of it came my way. What I did see however was not my demographic. I need child free professionals with expendable incomes or empty nesters finally enjoying their money for optimal profits, and what I saw was a lot of double strollers and pregnant women. Couples with small children don’t make self indulgent purchases they can’t justify. A fancier car than you strictly need can be written off with the excuse that you need a car, but art isn’t so easy. Which is not a judgement, it’s just a fact. It’s one of the reasons I do so poorly in the suburbs. From what I gleaned talking to other vendors, the profile of Bucktown had changed a lot in the last few years, going from the kind of hipster/nightlife area that best suits the kind of thing I sell to a gentrified family neighborhood. I wish I’d known that earlier, but the game of Musical Shows is never not an expensive gamble.

And an expensive gamble this turned out to be. While Sunday pretty well made up for a lot of Saturday’s crowd woes, considering the higher cost of doing this show, it wasn’t terribly impressive. The shop total, while not as good, was close to Glenwood’s which is nice, but the nut was over 3x Glenwood’s, which makes for a much lower overall profit.

WTFs: In the park section of the layout, a booth had been marked with a huge ass tree smack in the center of it. Did they send drunk squirrels with spray paint cans to do the layout, I wonder? Wait, no. I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

The aforementioned beer restriction. According to one Greenshirt, having beer everywhere is no more expensive permit-wise than having beer in just one place. From my limited wanderings I’d have to say there was a crowd both days, but they were staying where the beer was. The stage area was packed all day, both days. Gee, funny how that works. If I had one piece of advice for these guys, it would be to Free the Beer. Which even the artists weren’t allowed to remove from the beer area. And there were volunteers stationed at all exit points to enforce this. I did anyway, because I am a rule disrespecting jerk and also a ninja. Sorry man. If I’ve been on my feet for that many hours in wet boots making that little money, I’m going to enjoy my beer in the comfort of my own booth. Attempt to stop me at your peril.

Lastly, potties. They were not pumped after Saturday. This created a condition so revolting on Sunday that people were leaving the show. All fine and good for patrons, but what about the artists and food vendors who have nowhere to go to pee? Props to the Greenshirts for handling the situation as best they could with spray bottles of bleach and constant monitoring of the banks of porta johns to keep them as usable as possible, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the actual pile of shit rising from the murky depths almost to the seat. They said the company had simply failed to show up to clean them, but given the other issues I saw with organization, I wonder if someone didn’t just forget to schedule the pumping of the pots.

Final verdict? Hard to call. I’ll have to think very carefully about this one. I heard a wide range of opinions from a wide range of artists. Everything from “Yes this show is great you just need a better spot” to “This show was great but the demographic has changed too much and these people are just here to look”. Saturday was pathetic, but Sunday was alright. Not fantastic, but alright. Pain in the Ass factor is very high though, and it ain’t a cheap show to do. Most shows send out their applications to artists from the previous year, and I’ll have to see if a booth request is part of it. I definitely don’t want to do it again if they put me in the same backwater, but might consider it if I’m on the main drag. This is going to be one of those situations where I might have to do it again and see what happens. Current profit to expense ratio says it wasn’t a particularly worthwhile show, but Saturday and Sunday’s crowds were like two different neighborhoods. I don’t know what’s up with that, but provided I can secure a better location, it might bear investigation.

Next up, Lakeview!

List!

I’ve decided to compile a list of Underappreciated Reasons To Choose A Career In The Arts. Oh, because life and things got in the way of my being a very good employee for myself this year, but since I’m the only one who works here AND I run the place, I can’t fire myself, so I’d better just give myself a pep talk and get on with it.

Eh-hem.

Mornings. I hate them. While I’m no longer the vampire I was as a youngster, and do in fact like to get to bed at a humane hour, I hate getting up any earlier than eight or nine. I also need a good two hours to gear my brain up to deal with people and the world (not metaphorically, my particular mental health issues require it because I’m overly sensitive to noise and smells when I first wake up, so like, I legit need to ease into the day so I’m not a total dick to people). When you’re an artist, with the exception of shows (and that’s only if you do street fairs), you don’t have to get up in the morning. If you want to you can, but the choice is yours. I get to wake up whenever the dog wakes me up, which is a damn sight more pleasant than some mechanical slave driver of an alarm clock so I can go pour espresso shots for commuters or some other such thing. Been there, done that. Got fired.

Social media. Most people get busted for Facebooking at work. For a self employed artist, social media is a legitimate part of your job and necessary to your life, since that’s the main way you promote and grow your business. I could spend half the day on FB and writing blog posts and call it productive without even slightly lying, because so long as what I’m doing brings attention to my business page, it’s work. Even if I’m posting pictures of cats. Think of all that time you waste on FB sharing cat gifs while you should be collating something. Now take away the collating and the guy who’s going to get bent because you’re not doing whatever collating actually is, and give yourself a high five because that three hours you just spent sharing cat gifs and writing a blog post about why it’s your job to share cat gifs upped your page views by like 500. Pretty sweet, right?

Sassy outfits. So I mostly live in jeans and t-shirts, because I mostly do things that get me covered in various kinds of muck, dust and shmoo. But when I’m not doing that I am a peacock. It’s not a girl thing, it’s that I believe Stevie Nicks is my real mother and it’s my job to represent. I own, no joke, 9 different black, tattered/lacy/frilly/gothy/Stevie in her Gypsy glory days, full length skirts. And people, that’s just the black ones. I didn’t count the antique white, wine, purple and grey ones, or the ones that just aren’t foofy or long. I have three fedoras, two bowlers, a cowboy hat, a top hat, and an adorable cloche. I’ve got six sets of hair flowers and more antique Afghani and Indian jewelry than any tribal fusion dancer you’ve ever met, save possibly Rachel Brice. Lets not get into the cute jackets, stompy black boot addiction, or just how many sweater/goth pirate trench/long Asian inspired 20s-esque coat things I own. Do I have a problem? Hell no! “I’m an artist” gets you all the slack when it comes to what you wear. But more pragmatically, I’m a very decent reflection of my work and people get way into that. So my Stevie wardrobe addiction is actually a tax write off.

Tattoos. I only have one “job killer” tattoo on the back of my hand. Otherwise all my ink can be covered by clothing. So long as I dress like Steve Urkel. Yeah, not happening. I’m one of those obnoxious gen x-ers that refuses to cover up tats or remove piercings. Because they in no way affect my ability to do any job, or indicate my level of intelligence or education, and it’s discriminatory to refuse to hire someone based on their choices in body mod. It’s become far less of an issue today than it was when I first entered the job market, but it will still get you stink eye. Which is insane given the kinds of jobs I end up applying for. I’m not going for law firms, I’m going for bars and cafes, ffs. In my current profession, not only do people not care, they kind of expect me to be wild looking, so the ink adds to the overall vibe I create in my shop and is an easy conversation starter for a lot of people. Also, I get to do a thing I deeply love to do, support other artists. I carry around a stack of my tattooists cards, so when people ask where I get my work, I can pass potential customers along.

Time. Most people need to wrestle time for the things they’re passionate about out of the limited amount of “me” time left in their day, if they’re not too tired. I do the things I’m passionate about for a living, and because I make my own schedule, I make time for the ones that aren’t my job when funds allow. I’m a workaholic, so I don’t abuse the work for myself thing. Plenty of people are undisciplined or unfocused, and can’t work for themselves or they’d get nothing done. I on the other hand have a hard time being told what to spend my time on, so I actually work harder for myself than I have for most of the employers I’ve had. Not all of them. I’m a kick ass employee so long as the boss is not a douche canoe. But lets be real here, there are so many more douche canoes in charge than non.

Job satisfaction. At the end of the day, something exists in the world that wasn’t there before. That thing is doing no harm, and is causing good feels. Mine, because I don’t call anything I don’t like finished, so I get my sense of accomplishment (yay dopamine!). And some random onlookers, because at the least it shows someone something they’ve never seen before, and at most someone connects on a visceral level with what I made. My stuff is mostly pretty abstract. I rely on a symbolism, visual harmony and storytelling that isn’t necessarily obvious, and needs to be looked at carefully and more than once to be picked up on sometimes. A lot of it can be read in multiple ways, too. When someone sees something that touches them, it’s because their brain and my brain had a weird conversation that maybe no two other brains could have had in just that way. It’s like making a poem out of a jumble of words and having some random person passing by understand it as a poem. Which is pretty freakin’ cool if you ask me.

So relax, kiddo! Yes, you’ve got a lot going on the next two months. Yes, your season got  wonky and you’re relying on just four shows to make your year and that’s TERRIFYING. But hey, look on the bright side. You get to wear a narwhal hat to work and nobody will care. And some random lady got all teary eyed and hugged you that one time because you made something that just rocked her world. That’s a thing that no steady paycheck can buy.

Here, have an update

Hi y’all!

Those of you who keep up with me on social media may have noticed that I’m a busy monkey lately. Usually I do the bulk of my production over the winter, but this year Life Things made that not happen as well as I’d have liked, so I used the huge lag between my spring show and my late summer ones to make up the difference. And man, have I done that. I’ve got a serious amount of stock ready for these next two months of shows. Before you get too impressed with me, remember that I’ve got a rennie crafter’s ideas of time and workload management, and that this is my full time job. I have way more time than many artists do to art with, and was taught the valuable skill of working even when I’m not feeling it. Inspiration is a thing, and sometimes you don’t have it. But when you’re trying to make a living you have to not let that stop you. There’s lots you can do even when the muse is taking a smoke break. Fortunately, I work well under pressure, and my muse has been on board with me these last couple of months, so I’ve been frankenjunking like a boss.

You’ve probably noticed all the flowers hereabouts, which is a bit of a sidestep from my usual. My meditations lately have focused on the transitory nature of the states of being we experience. Things like depression, happiness, anger, contentment, and what it actually means to embody an emotional state, both physiologically, (like what all those fancy neurotransmitters are really doing in there) and experientially. What’s more symbolic of how brief our lives and experiences are than flowers, says me. Moths and butterflies are often used symbolically to represent transition and change, too. Hard core monks meditate in charnel houses next to decomposing bodies to really come to grips with the brief nature of our existence. While most of my materials are decomposing, an actual carcass is too Dada even for me. Also, stanky. So flowers it is. You’re welcome.

Plus, you know, they’re pretty. I like pretty things. Not everything I find attractive is dead, you know. I have layers, people.

So, shows! You can find them all listed to the left of my Facebook page under the “events” tab. You can also say, “Madam! Prithee, put me on your mailing list, for I am lazy and wish all pertinent information to be delivered directly to my device.” and then give me your e-addy and I totally will. (Ok, “prithee” is recognized by spellcheck, but “experientially” and “charnal” are not? WTF spellcheck??) But I’ll be back at Glenwood and Lakeview, and also Edgewater, though they haven’t notified me yet, they cashed my check like two months ago so I’d better have a booth number. And new this year I’ll be in Bucktown, which everyone has been telling me since I started this party that I should check out, so I’m optimistic. August and September are the time to see me this year, unless you’re in the Milwaukee area, in which case come on out to Re:Craft and Relic in November so we can hang. I’ve also applied to my first Chicago Art Girls show in December. If you’re all “wtf is Chicago Art Girls”, they’re a loosely organized bunch of women artists that promote and support each other, throw a holiday shindig once a year, and kindly let a few non members apply to their hootnanny. I have a lot of shows in common with several of these ladies and I deeply dig each and every one of them. I just wish they didn’t all live in like West Town or whatever. Those of you who don’t live in a city the size of a small country just don’t understand how difficult it is to get with people that live in farther flung neighborhoods of the county. It’s actually easier and faster to get to Wisconsin. But I digress. I won’t know about that one til September, so stay tuned for updates on that score, and the rest of the holiday shenanigans, as the November and December shows don’t tend to put their calls out for a while yet.

Speaking of which, I will not be back at Late Late this year, for any of you who attend that one. That crowd way wasn’t into my glittery shenanigans. A few FB peeps came out like the awesome, supportive rock stars you are, but on the whole I was clearly not what that crowd was looking for. Eh, live and learn.

A new Thing I’m trying this year at shows is pay what you want artist trading cards. I’ve made up a buncha tiny art that anyone can afford because you can pay or trade whatever you want for it (No children or pets please!). You can pay a quarter, a dollar, a flower, a c-note, a cupcake, a hug, produce, sandwiches, your own tiny art, or just say “thanks” and we’re square. If you don’t at least say “thanks”, I will think you’re kind of rude, because damn, where are your manners, but you can still have some art. The point is that you pay what you want, and if you want to pay with being kind of rude, I accept. I’m  gonna judge you, but I accept. It’s always been my jam to be accessible. This way, even if you’re homeless, you can afford art. Because they’re not “free”, you still participate in a fair exchange, even if your part is just shaking my hand. I dig this because I’m a control freak (no really, just ask my shop monkeys), and it’s a great exercise in not controlling, just accepting. Whatever your payment will be is exactly enough (As long as it’s not alive! I really can’t stress enough how much I don’t want a pet hamster or a five year old.).

Also! The knits are going away forever, so what’s left is going to be on super sale at the shows where they’ll let me have more than my juried medium. Some shows are picky about that, but others, like Glenwood, are pretty laid back about having more than one kind of thing in your shop, so long as you’re still making all the things. So hats, scarves and tubes made with super sexy, really kick ass fiber are going for less than cost of materials, even. I just need them outta my way. And, while not on super sale because they’re already pretty much at cost, the mini shrines are also going away, so what I’ve got is all that’s gonna be, and if you’ve been eyeing one, now is the time to commit. I still have a decent number left, so they’ll probably still be around next season, but I’ve decided I’m not even going to take custom orders on them anymore, so git em now before they’re gone.

Is that it? Hm. Yeah, I think that’s it. You know all of the things for now.

I hope everyone is having a fabulous summer so far. It’s all too brief in this godforsaken latitude, so enjoy it while it’s here. I know I am.

“What’s with all the death?”

I’ve explored a large number of spiritual traditions. As a youngster, I was trying to find a god that didn’t offend me with its misogyny and bigotry. As an adult and an atheist, out of curiosity about how different cultures deal with the big scary issues facing a living, sentient being. One of the biggest, scariest issues is, of course, dying.

Everything dies, even mountains. So why is it so terrifying? Some Native traditions refer to death as the Great Mystery. That about sums it up, doesn’t it. I’ve had plenty of people in my life go off into that mystery. Relatives of great old age and friends of great tragedy or accident. Nobody has come to tell me what happens next, if anything. So I’m left to deal with the idea of non-existence in whatever way works best for me. We all hope to live long and fabulous lives, but the truth is that death is walking next to all of us, all the time. We don’t know when she’s going to put her hand on our shoulder and say, “Come now. It’s time.” And that’s kind of terrifying.

Even with the wonderful pragmatism of Buddhism in my pocket, it’s a hard thing to give space to in my consciousness. I don’t hold all Buddhist beliefs to be literal truths, but plenty of them hold symbolic water with me. Reincarnation for example. I don’t believe my spirit, if such a thing I do possess, will go anywhere when I die, but I will be in actual fact reincarnated. My body will be broken down into its individual elements by a host of fascinating and necessary creatures and fungi collectively known as “decomposers” and be taken up by the grasses and trees whose roots have found my remains below them (I’m a green burial advocate, so I mean, for all intents and purposes, to be composted), which will then be preyed upon by whatever eats them, and in turn by whatever eats them. So maybe “recycled” is a more accurate term than “reincarnated”, but whatevs. This, to me, is right and proper. I was borrowing those elements from the universe, and I must return them when they’re due. Like a library book. My elements aren’t mine to keep, but belong to the universe collectively, and in time must be loaned out to something else. I could be a nebula someday.

I’m not the first sentient being to deal with things like Life! Death! Universe! symbolically. Art has a long history of being a coping mechanism and method of expressing Shit Too Big To Deal With. So to be honest it always kind of surprises me when people ask me what’s up with all the death. I want to ask them how they deal with it. Not in a judgy way, but I’m legit curious. It’s not even really death, exactly. Just because there are a lot of bones and carrion birds (don’t get me started on bird mythology, because we will be here all night) and whatnot doesn’t make the story specifically about death. The story I’m almost always telling is about transition and in-between-ness (“liminal” is the dictionary word for those people or things in between two states, which spellcheck refuses to believe is a word, but it totally is, you can google it). Dying happens to be the big one for a living thing, so it shows up often, but there are many other liminal states to be meditated on though the medium of art. There is no such thing as an end, only a shift. People don’t cease to exist, they cease to be people. What they are next is pretty open to interpretation depending on your belief system, but the transition part is non-negotiable.  A mountain, when it’s no longer a mountain, is dust, sand, magma. It hasn’t disappeared though. People don’t. Planets don’t. Because Library of Universe. Many of my materials are well along the path to returning their elements to it, and I’m there to help. Like a good little decomposer/recycler/agent of karma.

For whatever reasons, people like to make huge, complicated ideas that belong on a continuum into either/or equations. I’ve had to deal with this personally as a card carrying mentally ill person. People like to categorize me as balanced or unbalanced, but the fact is that I’m both, either or neither, depending on the day (or the hour). Sometimes, when my chemistry is chill, I’m very normal. For years I refused to discuss my malfunctioning circuitry with anyone, choosing instead to pretend so hard to be balanced that no one knew what to do with the unbalanced me when it happened. It wasn’t a good way to deal, though it left me with a valuable skill set. To this day I pass so well nobody knows I’m whackadoo unless they’re around me a fair bit. I’ve learned not to have the inside conversations in my outside voice. I’ve learned to respond to being touched like mammals are supposed to instead of flinching, and stopped organizing the pasta alphabetically. Sometimes though, I’m laying on the floor talking to the people that live in my brain who aren’t me, or not being able to leave my house because, AAACK! WORLD! That effort needs expressing somehow, too. The things inside you can’t let off their leashes but that can’t stay inside indefinitely or you lose touch with the difference between subjective reality and the one we all more or less agree is real (don’t get me started on quantum theory or we’ll be here all night).

I’m also a first gen. My parents came here from somewhere else, and like lots of immigrants, they wanted their kids assimilated like, now. So I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of either place. My family was very different from the other kids I knew, but also not like any Latino family I knew either (which, growing up in a very homogeneous suburb, consisted of my Puerto Rican friends from summers in San Juan, so maybe I didn’t have a great representative sample for comparison). I sit between two cultures and don’t feel fully a part of one or the other. People who feel rooted in their culture express their feelings for it all the time through artistic mediums. People who don’t feel rooted though, also have feelings that need dealing with. Feelings of in between-ness and dislocation.

I’m not sure at what exact point I decided that this medium was a good one for expressing All of the Things. The weirdness in my head, my feelings about non-existence, the ways of being in between two sharp points in the world and still feeling authentic. But I did, and it works for me. And I have the huge compliment of being told at every show how well it speaks to other people. People who are liminal people, people who are members of one or another counter culture, but also people whose freak flag doesn’t fly very high at all. People who work with death, grief, or mental illness as part of their jobs. People who occupy places society doesn’t explicitly approve of, or that aren’t well defined. It’s satisfying as hell. I’m really just sitting in my basement playing with glitter and junk and wondering if anyone is going to get this, and it seems that, yeah, they do. Not everyone does, but that’s fine. Not everyone likes shrimp or BMWs.

We all have to deal with Shit Too Big To Deal With in some way or another.

 

 

Re:Craft and Relic: Highlights, Lowdowns and WTFs

First show of the season! Yaaaaaay! (((Kermit flaily arms)))

And what a lovely show it was, too. Big thank you to the RC&R powers that be for coming through on all their fancy talk about the spring show. You know how sometimes organizers be all, “We’re working even harder for you! We have a new Thing! And this other awesome Thing to make people come and love you!!!! WE DO!!!!” and it’s like, cricket chirp? Yeah, this wasn’t that.

Highlights!

Advertising, advertising, advertising. Someone heard a radio spot on a local station, someone else heard them on NPR, and so on and so forth. No doubt, these guys spent my money wisely. I’ll never bitch about a show fee if I hear about the show everywhere before it happens. Not that there’s anything to bitch about, as the table fee is super reasonable at under $200 smackeroos for a huge indoor venue with tons of parking. Which is good, because travel costs actually make this a more spendy one for me. But they secured us a vendor discount at a local hotel that got us SWANK rooms, so that didn’t suck. And since we learned last time that Franklin is a food desert (unless beef and cheese is the only food you like to eat) we came prepared for in room meals with lamb stew and sundry nibblies from home, thus saving further ducats.

The few complaints I had about communication, both with the organizers and with customers (bad sound system equaled difficulty talking to customers) in November were totally sorted out this time around. What? An organization that listens to vendor feedback??? I die.

The crowd was larger than it was in November, due I’m sure in part to advertising and some fantastic discounts and incentives offered for attendees on Sunday, but also probably the lack of Packers games. Lots of the same vendors I saw in the fall, too, which is always nice. Lots of new ones as well. Sales weren’t huge, but the average price point went from $35 in November to about $50 for this one, with a couple of larger sales. I covered costs, made a profit and was definitely up from the November event, so I was happy. The crowd was lovely. Like, super nice people, everyone smiley, chatty and very pleasant.

Lowdowns!

Along with the expanded roster of vendors, some manufactured stuff managed to sneak in. It happens. Mostly because someone lied on their application, or brought it to supplement stuff they were actually making. I mentioned it when the organizer asked what I thought of how things were looking, because I am a stool pigeon when it comes to that sort of crap. I watched too many of my rennie brethren go under when ren faires started allowing people with mass produced products into the shows on a large scale. He was both genuinely surprised and wanting me to finger the offending parties. Which I will totally do. I have zero patience for people claiming imports are their work, or undercutting people who are making a thing by hand with a mass produced thing. That is shady and shitty and art peeps work too hard for too little for those kinds of shenanigans to be tolerated.

But other than that, yeah, I got nothing. This was a well planned and executed event with zero hassle or agita for me.

WFTs!

Bristol peeps I haven’t seen in, I kid you not, twenny years! Which was awesome. Had my favorite pickers as neighbors again, which was both awesome and somewhat expensive. I have a problem. I own this. But, art!

Also met two of my classmates from that wonderful pair of online art classes I took last year. One of them bought art, the other was one of the vendors. I love when stuff like that happens. Also in the cool stuff happening area are the random surprise gifts other vendors, not to mention people, will give you when you do assemblage. The “can you use this” gifts. At a show where a good proportion of the vendors are pickers, it’s more common than you’d think. This show is proving itself to be not only a place where I sell stuff, but a place for new stuff to find me. The junk chi is mighty at Re:Craft and Relic. Totally going back in November.

Next up, Glenwood! Yes that’s right, I have diddly til August. Thanks Spring Green, for not giving me any time to replace you. C’est la vie. But! That does mean I have all summer to recon other shows (secret mission to Indianapolis coming soon), and make more stuff (back to leather work maybe, oooooOoOOOo…) so that come August there will be All of the Things for you to see!