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.

SLCC: The Good, The Bad & the Ugly

I headed back to Salt Lake City this last weekend for the Salt Lake Comic Con.  It was me, Stephan, our kids, two checked duffel bags of inventory, and a determination to sell handmade geekery to the masses.

So how did that work out?

Let’s start with the good.  Despite a mishap that saw myself, the kids and luggage on the train to the hotel and Stephan left behind at the station, the trip there was relatively uneventful*.  Ben managed to keep his chaotic energy to a minimum while Charlotte played numerous games of Solitaire on her phone.

We got to our spot in the Salt Palace Convention Center with little difficulty and got set up in record time.  Stephan provided extra lung power to get Johanns Rex inflated and ready for his convention debut.  I forgot to pack clothes pins so I had to improvise a hanging solution for the skirts with binder clips.  All in all, I think the set up was good.  Especially later when I raided the empty space next to me for another table for the dice bags.

Stephan inflating the giant T-rex.
You know what they say about a man with big lung capacity, don’t you?
When not modeling bustles in the booth, Johanns T-Rex pilots an airship crewed by raptors called The Clever Girl.
When not modeling bustles in the booth, Johanns T-Rex pilots an airship crewed by raptors called The Clever Girl.

The good came in many different forms: Several friends stopped by the booth to offer support via food runs, helping to hock wares, and entertaining children.  Charlotte spent a lot of time in the booth drawing and running the Square.  Everyone who heard the refrain, “All the skirts have pockets” squealed with joy.  At least three men picked up a business card because their wives weren’t at the convention but they were certain to be interested in the skirts.  At one point, a woman pulled a skirt on over her leggings, paid and then twirled out of the booth.

Skirts and bustles ready to cover some geeky butts.
Skirts and bustles ready to cover some geeky butts.

The bad, though, was pretty bad.  At the end of the con I joked with myself that the awesome thing about capitalism is that it could enumerate just how much of a failure a person is in dollars and cents.  I had come out to the convention with the optimistic goal of $10,000 in sales.  That number would be really hard to make, but I had twelve grand in inventory, plus I expected to get lots of commissions for the skirts.  Based on what I made at SLC FanX in March (almost $1,500 with half the number of attendees) I could reasonably expect to make $3,000.

Readers, I pulled in a whopping $915.

Saturday night, as I broke down the booth, I had a hard time keeping Jerk Brain at bay.  Every single horrible thing he has ever said to me felt true.  I was a worthless loser, a dumbass who chose the wrong thing every time.  I was stupid and irresponsible and lazy and a burden to my family.  Why did I keep deluding myself into thinking I could support myself and my family by sewing?  If anyone could do it we wouldn’t be buying cheap T-shirts from sweatshops.

Sunday wasn’t much better.  I became intimately acquainted with the hotel bed while Stephan and the kids spent time with friends.  I deactivated my Facebook account because I couldn’t face people with the weight of my failure.  Monday we flew back to Chicago with me dragging behind my family every step of the way.

I kept thinking about how I had proven myself a failure, how I would have to give up the sewing and the idea that I could make a living from home.  I was convinced that the only thing I was good for was taking up space.  Back home, once I was sure that Trixie still loved me, we had unpacked and gotten the kids off to bed, Stephan poured me a glass of wine and we talked.  And he pointed out that really, all I proved was that I shouldn’t do conventions right now.  The benefit of a host of potential customers in a small space wasn’t actually manifesting.  I handed out a lot of business cards and got people signed up to my mailing list, but that was something I could do from home.

Stephan talked me off of the ledge of giving up on everything.  We came up with a new game plan that focuses on non-event related sales and marketing.  And this morning I started listing those skirts that didn’t sell on my Etsy.

You would think making a tenth of what I was expecting would fall under the category “Ugly” and, yet, this isn’t the case.  One of the things that I like about Salt Lake City is that people are very nice.  When the train fiasco happened people were kind to help me get luggage off the train at the next station to wait for Stephan.  A man stopped by and checked up on us when he saw me and the kids sitting out on our own late at night.  That friendliness was in attendance for the most part at the convention.  The flip side, however, was a level of bad behavior I’ve never experienced at another convention.

I learned when I started vending not to use the line “Everything here is meant to be touched.”  While most people would understand that I meant the stock in my booth, there was always one or more men who would cock an eyebrow and say “Anything?” in that gross aren’t-I-so-clever way.  On Friday, I learned that the behavior cannot be stopped by using the right words, or is even limited to just men.  My friend Kyra was helping a lady and said “You are welcome to touch things in the booth.”

The woman reached out and touched Kyra’s face!

This … this is not appropriate behavior for life, let alone a convention.  I didn’t see it happen, else there would have been a body shoved under the table.  The woman fled when Kyra told her firmly, “Not me!”  Good thing I’m not going to do conventions for a while, else I’d have to make up a sign that read, “Please do not pet the staff.”

Poor Kyra bore the brunt of the bad behavior that weekend.  At one point a guy walking past yelled at her, “I’m in the need of some discipline, will you discipline me?”  Again, something that won’t be an issue if I don’t vend at conventions, however I am now imagining how I can weaponize my belly fat so I can just start whapping such dude bros.

Because this kind of thing always happens in threes, I overheard a man yelling that he only wanted the two hottest girls from a group cosplay in his photo.  Chalk one more person up for a hit a run by my thunder thighs.

So now it is back home time.  Ben is now in full day kindergarten, which means I now have dedicated hours to sew.  And that’s what I’m going to do.  I have a few commissions from SLCC to work on.  That should also mean there will be more posting here.  First up, I’ll get a tutorial for the skirts posted in the next few days.


*We flew from Chicago to SLC.  The train I mention was from the SLC airport to the hotel.  At $10 for a one way trip for four people, it was well worth the late night Griswold-esque adventure.

Geeky Skirts with Pockets

Sometimes you get an idea that is so obvious you wonder why you didn’t think of it before.  They’re the kind of ideas that when you tell people they say, “Holy shit, yeah! That’s a great idea!” I don’t think these moments of inspiration really pop up out of the blue.  They might seem that way because the inspirational components are so buried in the background they’re forgotten.

I don’t want to overlook the inspirations for these skirts, so I am going to first give a shout out to the three fairy godmothers of this project.

Justine, a real life mermaid, sparked the idea by asking me about making her some skirts.  Nothing fancy, no bustles or flounces, just some comfy circle skirts.

Shortly afterwards Moira, an artist of Victorian morbidity, mentioned seeing skirts with pockets at an event where she was vending.  They weren’t fandom or SF/Fantasy specific, just simple A-line skirts with pockets.  Women were buying them up in armfuls.

Finally comes Jennifer, a savvy lady who has run vending halls for various events.  While I was at Anime Midwest a couple of weeks ago, I lamented to her about how there was all this awesome, licensed fabric that I wanted to use but I couldn’t because of the fine print on the selvages.  I felt it was unethical to make projects to sell from licensed fabric when the companies wouldn’t get compensation.  And it always bothered me that it seemed so many others didn’t have those same qualms.

“You can use that fabric for projects you sell,” she told me.  After some research I realized that she was right.  The fine print on the selvages was unenforceable by the companies.  But more importantly, the companies got their licensing fees in the first sale of the fabric.  After that First Sale of Doctrine kicks in.  Never have I been so happy to be so wrong.

So skirts + pockets + licensed fabric = geeky clothes for Salt Lake Comic Con.  If it hadn’t been for these three friends I wouldn’t have spent the last four weeks experimenting until I came up with this:

Geeky Skirt with Pockets Star Trek Sigils Edition

I started off with dirndl skirts (rectangles gathered to a wide waistband).  But those really only look good on kids and teens.  I played around with a simple A-line panel pattern which came out looking much more grown up.

I have drafted six sizes from small to 3XL (fitting waists from 22″-59″).  Each one features two interior side pockets and a wide elastic waistband.  I’m spending the next few weeks making up as many as I can for SLCC.  I’ve got an album of what I’ve made so far and the fabrics used over at the Idiorhythmic Designs FB page.  Check it out.

When I’m back from SLCC, I’ll put together a tutorial on how to make one to your own measurements and post it here.