Making It Work: You Can Still Lose

My house is being foreclosed on. This comes as no surprise.  I have been fighting to keep my home since I got divorced in 2008.  One of my first battles led me to run a fire sale on custom corsets.  I raised almost $1,500 for my mortgage.  For nine years it has been a struggle.  There have been bad conventions and years of expensive car repairs.  I’ve dealt with financial sabotage on the part of my ex-husband.  And I’ve made mistakes, like with the way I tried to restart my publishing company back in 2012.

On top of that all, I’ve also been dealing with depression and anxiety.  At times I know people have wondered why I worked so hard to keep hold of this house.  What I tell them is that it’s not just the house.  If I lose my home I can’t afford to stay in the area.  And if I move I will have a custody battle on my hands.

This final notice of foreclosure, though, has brought with it an acceptance that this is just how things are going to be.  I’m not going to be in this house much longer.  Which puts me in a holding pattern.  Foreclosures can take years to be resolved.  I could be moving in six months or six years.  That kind of uncertainty makes planning for the future tricky.  I have the chance to vend at C2E2, but can I commit to an event in April when I might be states away?  Should I look at events in the area I plan to move to when I don’t know my move date?  I already anticipate losing money in 2018 because of this.

It’s harder with the house.  Is there a point in planning next year’s garden?  And just what should we fix around the place?  I feel like I can’t even properly mourn the home I will lose because everything is so uncertain now.  Making peace with what is going on is difficult when I don’t know what the future holds.

It’s funny, this happening now.  I haven’t posted a financial update in a while due to being so busy, but that doesn’t mean the news is bad.  This year is on course to being my best one yet.  Every month but one has been in the black and I’ve made my sales goals at the majority of my events.  Even better, I’ve seen an uptick in commissions and Etsy sales.

Professionally, I’m feeling very good about my work.  I have a book contract.  I’m even getting jobs doing e-book layout and design (my latest project was for author Richard C. White on his book Harbinger of Darkness).  It’s work that I really enjoy.

In my personal life things are wonderful.  I’ve got two lovely, smart and creative kids.  Stephan is the best husband and partner I could ever hope for.  I am slowly learning about living with cats.  My depression and anxiety are pretty much under control.  I even have a bit of a social life.

All of this is in stasis, too, now.  I can’t plan longer than a month out.  I can’t commit to long term plans, or make connections in the area I’ll be moving to.  I have to just accept that this is the way things are right now.  I have to be prepared for change, but not spend all my time waiting for it.

It’s a balancing act to be sure.  I try to keep grounded in the present as much as possible.  I tackle my October to do list, clearing the old growth from the yard, paying the bills, checking to see what linens need replacing before winter arrives.  I go into the workshop and concentrate on the handful of commissions I have to finish up.  And I tell myself a dozen times a day that things are going to be okay, it’s a transition and it sucks, but I will survive it.

I am sure that one day, in the future, I will look up from the present and see that I did, indeed, survive.

The Idiorhythmic River

Over the last couple of years I’ve tried to work with my depression instead of against it.  To me this means going with the flow: working on those tasks that I feel up to, and not forcing myself to slog through tasks.  Do this goes against my upbringing.  It goes against some of the underlying belief in hard work that is so prevalent in American society.

We “tough it out” and “work through the pain.”  We never take sick days.  We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and soldier on.  We put in 110% and go big or go home.  We fake it till we make it.  What we never, ever do is stop to question who is the taskmaster that set this schedule, let alone why we should follow it.

Hard work, after all, is it’s own reward.

This last week I’ve been plagued with insomnia … again.  I can’t fall asleep until four or five or six in the morning.  And then, when I do, I sleep away half the day.  If it weren’t for the fact that Stephan is at home and responsible for the kids in the morning, the house would be miserable.

Part of this is a physical cycle: sleep away the day and of course I won’t be able to sleep at night.  Part of it is my depression: meds help, but the American Horror Show: White House that is playing out is making it worse.

I’ve tried to work with this: breaking down work into simple tasks and tackling them as I feel able.  I spent Monday baking and prepping meals.  Tuesday was running errands.  Yesterday I started seeds for the garden, and registered for some events later this year.  Very little time was spent in the workshop.  And it’s that which Jerk Brain latches onto.  I have deadlines!  I am not depressed, I’m lazy!  Going with the flow is just an excuse for not having dedication and follow through!

And, despite having years of practice dealing with Jerk Brain, it can still be hard to ignore.  Especially when one or two bad days drags out into four or five.  I begin to second-guess this plan of giving myself permission to do work that isn’t tied to a paycheck.  I start to look at my output, at my hours worked, and scattered as they are across the days and week it is hard not to see them as inferior to a solid forty hour work week.  When I have to budget and scrimp and save, when I look at my dwindling bank account, it is hard not to believe Jerk Brain when it insists that I am a failure.

One of my weapons against all this is Stephan.  I tell him that I feel like I am being a bad partner and mom.  That I worry I am not contributing enough to our family’s stability.  I tell him that I’m worried my insomnia is responsible for his own sleeplessness.

He responds that I am doing fine.  He says Jerk Brain is an asshole liar.  He promises that if he had an issue with anything he would say so.  And he cracks jokes to make me smile and laugh.  He gives me permission to keep going with the flow, not because he thinks I need it, but because he knows I want it as a shield against my doubts.  I’m hoping that one day I won’t have to rely on him so much.  I am also okay with the knowledge that that day may never come.

More than that I will try to take it a day at a time.  Despite the insomnia and sleeping in today I managed to tidy up the house, help Benjamin with his homework, and take some measurements for projects.  And I wrote this post.  Little tasks.  Little check marks on the to do list.  And one by one I will get things done.

Down in the Hole

Almost three years ago I started to realize that I wasn’t okay.  Stephan was the first to notice it and suggest that I needed help.  That kicked off a period of introspection on my part where I started to recognize what I was going through and drawing parallels to a period in my life, almost twenty years earlier, where I had dealt with the same issues.  At that time I ended up trying to kill myself, dropped out of college and moved 2,000 miles from my home state of Wyoming to start over in Chicago.

Even though I recognized the signs and had a supportive husband, I still could have ended up in a very bad place.  We didn’t have health insurance at that point so I couldn’t get professional help.  In fact it would take about eight months after deciding I needed help before I could see someone.  And when everyday you alternate between feeling like you are being buried alive or that your head is going to explode from all the anxiety, it’s hard to function, let alone jump through all the hoops of finding the help you need.

Much like with my move to Chicago in 1996, I started cataloging my struggles with depression and anxiety out of desperation.  I made posts to my Facebook page about what I was dealing with, what it felt like, what I was going through to find help.  I needed to express what was going on in a place that was safe for me.  And even though I have a tightly locked down Facebook page, with a highly curated friends’ list, I still spent a lot of time agonizing over whether or not to post.

What helped was another friend posting first about going to therapy and then later about taking medication.  It was just two little posts, snuggled in between stuff about politics and books and life.  But it made a huge difference.  Here was someone I looked up to, someone who, to my eyes, had their shit together.  And they were seeing a therapist for anxiety.  They were taking medication for their mental health.  Holy shit!  Maybe I wasn’t the only one!

I come from Wyoming, a state that has a high suicide rate for its population size, and where the most distinct cause of death in the state is the flu.  It is a place where you suck it up and work through the pain, no matter what.  It’s no wonder that we don’t talk about things as uncomfortable as mental health.  My own mother, when I had brought up depression and therapy in the past, cautioned that I had to be careful because therapists would “just want to blame all your problems on your parents.”  The concern with image trumps any pain or suffering you are feeling.  Add to that the belief that mental illness is more about personal failings and irresponsibility than an actual medical condition and you can see why it’s hard to talk openly about depression and anxiety, let alone other mental health issues.

Posting, first only about the arduous process of finding doctors that took my health insurance, but later on my medications and my reactions, had an effect that I had expected.  I started getting private messages from people who I had always seen as, again, having their shit together: people who were working, paying their bills, engaging in life.  These people told me about the medications they were on.  They told me what worked or didn’t work for them.  They wrote to me with support and encouragement.  It was so damned important for me, because I got to see that it wasn’t abnormal to take medication, that there was still life beyond depression.

As I kept writing, people started commenting openly.  Again, all these friends who I thought of as awesome, put together adults, were sharing their own struggles and stories.

And something else happened.  Friends started telling me about how my posts helped them with their own mental health issues.  They recognized their symptoms in my writings.  They went and sought help because they read about me taking medication.  They were feeling better, more hopeful about their own lives because they saw someone else going through the same things.

That realization suddenly made it so much easier to write the posts about what I was feeling.  To mention when I felt I was backsliding, or my worries that my medication isn’t helping.  I was doing the same thing I have been doing when I post about whether or not I am making money in this whole living a creative life endeavor: I am standing in the dark, holding up a light for those who might be otherwise lost.  And that’s a kind of healing as well.

 

 

Going with the Flow

Yesterday was Mabon, the Autumn Equinox, a time of contemplation and thanksgiving.  I was going to walk to the library and work on a project for a client.  I was going to do all the dishes that have piled up and tackle the to do list that had grown longer every day.  I was going to have a bonfire to celebrate the sabbat.  Instead I slept.

I didn’t intend to sleep.  Not at first.  The past week I’ve been spectacularly busy.  My done list has been filled will several entries each day.  I’ve managed to keep the house clean.  At night I would climb into bed and fall asleep excited about what I was going to be working on the next day.  I’d wake up, sleepy, but able to get Ben’s lunch packed and walk him to school.  It was proof, I was sure, that this whole four month plan was the right one.

Wednesday, though, saw an interruption to that productive flow.  I was worn down.  I decided to keep things low-key, to keep working but not push myself.  A reading and writing day would be just what I needed to keep moving forward, if at a slower pace than I was accustomed.

I polished a short story, ready now for feedback.  I finished up a blog post for next week and got started on another.  I even fit in reading, making some headway into a book that is proving a challenge to get through.  The entire day was a struggle.  I downed copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake.  By the end of the day, despite the work I had done, I was exhausted and cranky and not satisfied.  There were dishes in the sink.  There were items on my to do list that hadn’t been checked off.

My anxiety went into frantic hamster mode.  Doing things my own way is all good and fine, but I have to actually do things.  I have to work!  I have to justify this experiment!  I had to shake off this low energy and get back to productivity!  It went on and on, flagellating me with the determination to get! things! done!

Instead, I slept.  I thought about how I had traded the anxiety of churning out inventory for conventions for that of marking off a to do list.  I’m supposed to be living by my own life patterns, and yet, within the first week I’ve fallen into another trap of “going with the flow”.  This emphasis on making every moment count monetarily is so ingrained in my psyche that it is near impossible to root out.

So I slept.  I sat in the same chair I had occupied the day before, reading and writing and struggling against somnolence.  I pulled several throws over my body, and I slept.  I knew I’d lose the whole day.  I’m not a thirty minute napper.  I’m the kind of napper who sleeps for hours and wakes up questioning what just happened.  I slept from 10 am to 3 pm, waking up a half an hour before the kids got home from school.

nap meme
Me in meme form.

I can’t say that I had some magical epiphany and now everything is all better.  I can’t even say that I felt completely rested.  I ended up going to bed that night earlier than usual.  But what I can say is that the world didn’t end just because I decided to sleep instead of work.  I can say that I gave myself permission to explore a different flow: one without judgement that allows me to find my own rhythm.

Today I am still tired.  The exhaustion lurks behind my eyelids.  It is a companion that has been with me most of my life.  I acknowledge its presence.  I acknowledge that it is a tool I can use to shape a flow of loving kindness.  And I tell it, “Not today.”  Then I make myself another bottle of caffeine and get to work.

 

GNH

It’s been a couple of days since we decided I wouldn’t be doing any more conventions for the time being, and I feel pretty okay about that decision.  As much as I enjoy conventions (in a Leslie Knope kind of way) I feel a certain amount of relief that I don’t have to scramble to find a way to pay for more booth fees since SLCC didn’t bring in money for that.

We made another decision that has been more difficult to reconcile, though.  That night while crying in my wine glass filled with cheap cab, I said, “I would give up all my creativity just to be financially stable.”  At the time I meant it.  Living in the US sucks if you are poor.  There’s the being food or housing insecure, but there’s also an added layer of judgement that comes along with being unable to pay your bills.  Thanks to our Puritan roots that equates wealth to worth, happiness is seen as only deserved by those who have an emergency fund, credit card balances paid off each month, and a retirement fund.  If you struggle from month to month, or live paycheck to paycheck, you are expected to be miserable.

I have struggled with more than societal expectations.  My ex made several times more than I did our entire relationship, a fact that became a problem after I had Charlotte.  I stayed home because it was decided that my $10 an hour would just get eaten up by childcare costs.  And once I lost that income, my worth to the relationship dwindled.  It didn’t matter that I was cleaning and cooking (things I did before I left my job).  The time that I spent raising our daughter didn’t count either.  Because there wasn’t a dollar amount attached to my efforts, I became a sort of indentured servant, paying for my keep with maid, cook and nanny services.  There’re reasons we divorced, and that’s one of them.

Coming back to the other night: all of the above was swirling around in my head when I admitted that I would trade the thing that made me happiest, the thing that made me who I am, for a respectable living.  I probably would have kept thinking that if Stephan hadn’t asked me if sewing made me happy.

“Yes,” I said, not really seeing what that had to do with anything.

Well then, what if we took the money factor out of things, he asked.  Not that I wouldn’t still sell my work on Etsy, or stop taking commissions.  Just … stop worrying about making a certain amount each month. What if, for the next few months, I focused on the happiness that sewing and writing brought, rather than the money?

It’s not an easy idea for me to wrap my head around.  I’ve been told all my life that I am lazy and irresponsible with money.  Just working without an expectation of making money seems to align with those ideas.  Jerk Brain, too, has chimed in with all sorts of guilt-inducing comments about how others don’t have the opportunity to take a sabbatical, and that the idea “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is just a bunch of privileged, white woman talk.

I’m trying to get around those obstacles, though.  I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life trying to justify my right to life through my income.  Taking four months to sew, write, bake bread, clean house and be the woman I want to be isn’t too much to ask out of a lifetime of being a wage slave.

After all, Stephan is back to regular hours at work after summer hours saw him working three days a week instead of five.  We can make that work to cover the monthly bills and any cash I make can go towards chipping away at our debt.  What’s the worse that can happen?  We won’t get out of debt as quickly as I had wanted.  But since I didn’t have any more conventions planned for this year, and since they weren’t bringing in the big bucks like I had hoped, it’s not like I am risking anything big.

The hardest part is giving myself permission to focus on what makes me happy.  I’m not comfortable with that idea.  And the fact that I am uncomfortable makes me sad.  I have to let go of the idea that I can’t really enjoy what I am doing until I am successful at it.  I’m not sure I will ever be okay with the emphasis of gross national happiness over gross domestic product.  For the next four months, though, I’m going to look at that discomfort through a lens of challenging my societal upbringing, and assure myself that at the very worst I can go back to measuring my worth by my bank account come January 1.

Dreaming of a Craftsman Economy

“I like your computer,” she said. “It looks like it was made by Indians or something.”

Chia looked down at her sandbenders. Turned off the red switch. “Coral,” she said. “These are turquoise. The ones that look like ivory are the inside of a kind of nut. Renewable.”

“The rest is silver?”

“Aluminum,” Chia said. “They melt old cans they dig up on the beach cast it in sand molds. These panels are micarta. That’s linen with this resin in it.”

One of the things I loved most about the novel Idoru by William Gibson was the idea of handmade computers.  Going beyond the limited customization offered by tower cases and laptop decals, he presented a vision of one of a kind units.  In a world of cheap T-shirts, fast food and Walmart, the idea of something so unique, so intentional, has instant appeal.

One of my greatest disappointments of the future is that we haven’t embraced a hand-crafted model like the one described in Idoru.  There are hints of handmade technology—phone cases here, apps, widgets and live wallpapers there—most notably in the Steampunk genre where a DIY aesthetic is applied to everything from fashion to machinery to vehicles.  The glimpses, though, serve more to highlight the predominance of mass produced items.

I think about that a lot, about how we have reached a point where we shouldn’t be relying so much on mass produced clothes and furniture and houses.  I wonder what it would look like, to live in a world where there were more crafters, making more beautiful things for people.

It’d require a higher standard of living than we have right now, that’s for sure.   Obamacare has been helpful in easing one of the main reasons people don’t strike out on their own.  But when you can’t be certain if you’ll make enough to survive, all the health care in the world isn’t going to convince you to leave your day job.

A guaranteed income would probably be necessary.  Or at least creating a living wage.  If we could ensure that people wouldn’t starve, that they would have a place to sleep, that they could have their basic needs met, what would they accomplish?  If someone could be certain that working forty hours at a fast food place paid enough to meet their needs, what could they do with all the extra time they didn’t have to spend at a second or third job?  How many cottage industries would crop up, providing beauty to replace the beige and plastic molded bits and bobs of our lives?

I don’t know. I’d love to find out, though.

It’s a Man’s (Business) World

The last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a business plan for Idiorhythmic Designs.  Last year I had been dedicated to making it my full-time job, and last year I was still working on my depression and anxiety, so I didn’t make much headway.  During my down time I decided to approach it from the ground up, writing a business plan, coming up with a logo, getting my social media use up again, all the ground floor stuff you do when you start a business.

I spent a few days at the library reading over business start up books, books about how to write business plans, books about how to run a crafting business, books upon books.  And I sat there and answered questions about my business vision, my projected revenue and expenses, my ideal customer, etc. I felt frustration creeping up on me.  It’s a feeling I’ve gotten every time I’ve read business books.

I love reading business books.  I find them entertaining and informative.  And as someone who never studied business and has difficulties with impostor syndrome, I am always trying to fill the gaps in my knowledge.  But I find that they all seem to come from the starting point: a point in which the way business is run and has been run for seemingly forever is the default to aspire to.  There are books that are aimed at “creatives”, at “non-business people”, at new comers and outsiders.  But their goal is to teach those without an MBA how to fit into the business system.  These books accept, without question, that the current system.  And it is a system predominantly rich, white and male.

Two years ago I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  I was excited when I started the book.  I wanted to find ways to approach being a business owner that weren’t rooted in telling women to be like men to succeed in business.  I believe that there is so much corporate culture could benefit from if it stopped making white and male the ideal.  I especially wanted to see examples of cultures that honored and valued other measures of success beyond the bottom line (employee happiness, how the world is made better by companies existences, benefit to society, etc.).  Mostly, I wanted to see a shift in way companies behave, because if I am going to live in a country where corporations are considered people, I want these corporate people to be productive members of society instead of the sociopaths the so routinely are.

The more I read Sandberg’s book, though, the more frustrated I became. At one point she wrote a description of a meeting of female engineers at Facebook, “…she encouraged them to share the progress they had made on the products they were building. Silence. No one wanted to toot her own horn. Who would want to speak up when self-promoting women are disliked? Jocelyn switched her approach. Instead of asking the women to talk about themselves, she asked them to tell one another’s stories. The exercise became communal, which put everyone at ease.”

The next paragraph is about how women need to be more self-promoting (an assertion that I don’t disagree with) but I felt Sandberg had missed a very important point.  That meeting told me that there were other ways to do things, that communal sharing could be just as important as tooting one’s own horn.  And rather than celebrating having found a new way to get those engineers involved, she took it as a sign that those women really needed to work on molding themselves into someone else. It was so disappointing to see that moment of epiphany taken to that same old ground.

I’d much rather an environment that encouraged sharing and cooperation than one that insisted on the individual over all. And seeing how businesses currently work, placing emphasis on profit over everything else, rewarding CEOs even when they fail at the expense of the employees at lower levels, etc. that some community-minded policies might just be a better change.

All of this has been hanging heavy on my mind as I work on building Idiorhytmic Designs and pondered all the ways I went wrong with Eggplant.  I recognize that I fell into several traps with Eggplant: I put too much emphasis on what a publishing company should look like, I spent too much time trying to “fake it till you make it” which made it impossible for me to say I was having mental health problems and ask for help.  I was trying to fit the way I wanted to work, and the type of company I wanted to run into a corporate ideal I found uncomfortable, to say the least.

As I sat in the library study room, I tried to concentrate not on numbers and marketing speak, but on how it would feel to run Idiorhythmic right.  On what it would mean to me and my family to be able to get to four large conventions in a year.  On how I would balance having Ben underfoot while I sewed hundreds of dice bags.  I focused on what I wanted to accomplish, not in terms of money, but in terms of how I run this business will support and amplify my values of sustainability, small business success, custom work, equality and justice.  It is an ethic that means I want to buy supplies from local stores and from other sellers on Etsy.  That means not buying supplies from Hobby Lobby (because I find them ethically offensive) or from mass producers in China (who are easy to buy from now that Etsy has allowed them to operate carte blanche).  It means a focus on making a modest profit and feeling good about myself, rather than making a larger profit and contributing to a problem I see.

I ended up drawing a lot of my business plan.  I don’t consider myself an artist, but I have found the mind map method of plotting to be very helpful. I’ve also not taken the writing of my business plan too seriously, as evidenced by my Facebook statuses at the time

mansbusinessworld01 mansbusinessworld02 mansbusinessworld03 mansbusinessworld04

It’s not that I don’t think that a business plan is important. I know it is. Right now, though, it is just for me, and taking a irreverent keeps me from falling into those old mindsets. Will I be able to stick to my beliefs going forward? I don’t know. But at least I am trying to shape my worldview and my business goals so that they are in harmony. And if that isn’t worth trying, then I don’t know what is.

2015: The Year of Slightly Less Poverty

So 2015 was supposed to be the year I returned to sewing and started living a more creative life.

How did that work out?

More or less okay.  I overestimated how well I was, thinking that my mental health was fine now that I was on medication. That wasn’t really the case, though.  I spent most of 2015 battling my anxiety, at times unable to leave the house.  Since I was working from home, that wasn’t a deal breaker.  But it made getting supplies, sending off packages and the like more difficult.  Not impossible, but requiring a greater amount of scheduling and having things go right.

The depression was a bigger problem to contend with.  It would sap me of motivation and energy.  Coupled with the insomnia, I had to fight for every productive moment for the first half of the year.  It has only been in the last two months that I have found myself more often stable than not.

On the financial front, things fared about the same.  My grand plans for a limited number of large conventions hit speed bumps.  Two of them costing me money.  Those pretty much knocked the wind out of me economically speaking.  It’s only been in the last month that I have caught up on my bills.

But you aren’t here for value updates on how the year went.  You want the nitty gritty.  Just how much money did I make on this quest to earn a living by my creative endeavors?

When it is all said and done I made a gross income of $3,858.86.  My expenses equaled $3,976.53.  So my year ended in the red by about $120.  Up until I paid for my Anime Midwest booth I was in the black for six months of the year, though.  Not great, but not catastrophic.

How did I make my money?

Commissions $1,185.00
Etsy Sales $759.21
Direct Sales* $1,475.50
Other** $407.46

With that $120 in the hole sitting there, the question some might ask is: Why are you going to keep this up in 2016?  I’m asking a different question: Having made almost $1,500 in convention and direct sales with two awful events as part of the mix, how much more could I earn vending at two larger, more established events this year.


* The include sales at conventions as well as sales to people who contacted me directly rather than through Etsy.

** Stuff sold on E-bay, E-book formatting work, etc.

In a World …

There’s a meme that has been making the rounds on my Facebook newsfeed.  “In a world of Kardashians,” the meme says, “be a Diana.”  I’ve seen a few variations of the meme.  “Be a Stevie [Nicks]” says one.  “Be a Rey [from Star Wars]” says another.  There are probably others out there, telling people to be whatever type of woman the meme author finds better than the Kardashians.  And it’s one of those memes that annoys the fuck out of me.

Those pseudo-uplifting ideas that are meant to promote individualism, but only a very specific kind of individuality.  Much like those Real Women Have Curves and When Did This Become Hotter Than This memes, the idea is based on promoting one standard of beauty at the expense of another.  And like those memes it’s poison.  Because when you base your self-confidence on tearing down another’s, you are participating in the same destructive rhetoric that society uses to enforce conformity and to punish those who don’t fall into the narrow definitions of what it means to be a woman.

Just as bad is the inherent sexism in the meme.  Like the other mentioned memes, it is always aimed at women.   If Kim Kardashian was instead Kevin Kardashian, the memes would be very different.  Kevin would be considered a smart business man, a trendsetter, the head of a corporation that influences media, fashion and technology.  The memes would be comparable to ones extolling the virtues of The Most Interesting Man in the World or Overly Manly Man.  But instead, despite being a successful entrepreneur and having a net worth of $85 million, she’s held up as the wrong kind of woman to aspire to.

I realize that progress has been made on so many fronts: body acceptance and positivity, body diversity, rejecting harmful beauty standards, celebrating and encouraging differences and individuality.  And I recognize this is just a phase in that progression.  But I will be very happy when we move beyond this grade school attitude that in order to celebrate what makes us special we have to tear down those who might find their own specialness in the status quo.  Or, as I put it on Facebook:

In a World Facebook Post

 

Random Acts of Craftiness

Spiral Goddess ScarfIt started with a scarf. I had a dozen or so fleece scarves sitting in a plastic bin, remnants from when I had an embroidery machine.  Some I tore apart and turned into rugs.  I didn’t have it in my to destroy the others, though.  One in particular, soft green sporting an embroidered spiral goddess, deserved to be worn rather than trampled on.  On a whim, I mailed the scarf to a friend, a pagan who hated the winter cold as much as I do.  I didn’t tell her it was coming.  I didn’t even know if she had received it until she posted a picture to Facebook.  The sight of her smiling face struck a chord deep down inside of me.  This was right.

I have always liked giving gifts.  As an introvert dealing with anxiety issues, it’s a way of expressing love that is safe.  I especially enjoy making gifts: something beautiful, something soft, something that will last and raise a smile every time it is used.  Giving a handmade gift is giving a piece of myself to someone, a permanent way to say “I love you.”*

But when you are trying to make a living through your handiwork it can be hard to divorce your creative efforts from the dollar sign.  Every hour you aren’t making inventory, you aren’t making money.  Every day you aren’t working on a commission you are failing by capitalistic standards.  I love you’s don’t put food on the table, after all.

The push back, however, is that we aren’t just meat-robots.  Humans need to feed more than our bodies.  Especially those who deal wit depression and self-loathing.  Creating for the sake of it, gifting to others, is more than a rebellion against art as a commodity, it is an act of self-preservation.  It is a way to balance the current, often crushing expectation for every aspect of our lives to have a monetary value with the absolutely essential need to establish that people are priceless.  Human creativity doesn’t come with a price tag.

It was a couple of months after I mailed off the scarf that the idea of Random Acts of Craftiness gelled.  I posted a picture of the Eighteen Panel Skirt on Facebook and a couple of friends brought up the idea of a trade.  Their crafted goods for my own.  Then later, I posted the Majestic Fucking Unicorn cross stitch pattern and two more friends requested completed works.  I said yes in both cases.  Yes to engaging in a craft exchange.  Yes to sewing a message of support and love for people I care about with no expectation of anything in return.

Crocheted Turtle of LoveGranted, saying yes was easier than the follow-through, at least at first.  The balancing act between money and love has tipped more often than not in the favor of money.  I’ve had to steal time from myself to finish projects.  But with each one completed, I have felt how right it is to do so.  There are kinks in the system, of course.  Finishing works and getting them out the door has proven a stumbling blocks as well.  Getting out of the house to the post office can be extremely difficult.  Slowly, though, love is leaving this house in parcels.

And in return, love is coming into this house.  A crocheted turtle sits in my workshop now.  Every time I see it I smile, think of my friend, and feel that I am loved.   I will fill this house with books and family and reminders that there are those out there who believe their time is worth more than money, their creativity has no price tag.

 


*I am not the only one in my family who does this.  My sister sends semi-regular packages to me filled with cookies and other goodies she has baked.