GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #15: Booth Confession

I’m doing my first SMALL retail craft show in ten years in November.

It’s the first out-of-state show I have to drive to, with only a few hours’ set-up. (I usually ship my booth, or have two days’ set-up time.)

I can only take about 25% of my regular set-up, and I can’t even get most of my walls in my car. The most electricity available will only be enough to light my cases, not my walls.

I’ll only be taking jewelry cases and a few propanels, and a couple of lights. I’ll be using the show pipe-and-drapes.

It will be a very “watered down” booth. It feels like I’m taking a huge step backwards in my booth set-up.

I’m terrified everyone who’s been reading my series will come in and take a look and say, “THIS is the person who’s been telling US how to make a great booth?!”

So if you visit the Westport Creative Arts Festival on November 17 and 18, please come see me.

And please be kind.

MORE THAN ONE WAY (TO CLIMB A WALL)

I’ve written before about the climbing wall at our local Y: CLIMBING THE WALLS In that entry, I was exhilarated by the notion that you cannot fall when wall climbing. I mean, it’s almost impossible.

The freedom that comes from realizing that was astonishing. I began to take chances I never dreamed of–trying a tricky foot hold, leaping for a just-out-of-reach hand hold, using my shoe directly on the flat wall to scamper to the next hold. Me! Scampering! Leaping!

Yesterday, while tackling a new wall, I was struck by another notion:

There’s more than one way up a wall.

You can go straight up. But that’s not necessarily the “best” way. You can also veer off to the left or right, if you can find a better hand hold or foot hold there.

If you get stuck, you can even double back and try another way. It just doesn’t matter.

In fact, any way you can get up a wall, is a good climb.

Later that day, I realized how true this is of our professional paths in art, too.

We get so stuck on the “right way” to move our art forward into the world. Should I do the show circuit? What are the good shows? How do I get into them?

Should I sell to stores instead? What’s the best way to approach them? Or should I sell on-line? Should I even try to sell my work?

What about exhibits? Do they really help get my name out there?

We constantly strive for validation of our work. Is it good enough? Then why haven’t I ever won an award? And why does so-and-so always win?? Their work isn’t any better than mine!

Climbing the wall reminded me of all these questions that used to hound me about my artwork (and sometimes still do!)

In reality, whatever gets you up the wall is good. Whatever gets your work out there, and works for you, is good.

It’s okay to want to make money from your art. It’s okay to not sell your art. It’s okay if you are successful. It’s okay if you don’t pursue success. It’s even okay if your definition of success is different than my definition.

Your art is probably “good enough” right now. Sure, it could be better. Sure, there are many, many other people whose work is better than yours.

But this is your art. And this is your life. No one else can tell you what it means to you, or what to do with it, or how you should do it.

Each “climb” in our life gives us the opportunity to think about how it went. To find the good in it, whether we reached the top or not. We get to think about how we could do it better next time. Or, if not better, perhaps how we could do it differently.

But in the end, what makes any climb a good climb is simply getting to the top.

And then, coming back down. So we can do it all over again.

Because the best thing about any climb, is simply the thrill of doing it.

SELF-HELP BOOK, HEAL THEYSELF!

I was scrolling through someone else’s blog roll today, out of curiousity. I came across one by an artist who was bemoaning the fact that she never really finishes most of the self-help books she starts. I got the feeling that she felt really bad about it, that it meant there was something wrong with her. That maybe if she actually finished the books, she would be a better person and a better artist.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with her. I think she’s doing exactly the right thing.

Actually, I’m now a sucker for self-help books, too. Didn’t used to be. In fact, for years I deliberately avoided them. I used to work in business environments with lots of other people. Every self-help book that came out followed the same pattern in my workplace.

One person would read it and report back at lunchtime. “It’s amazing! I never knew I had XYZ syndrome, but I’m practically crippled by it! But this book–I’m cured! You should read it, too!”

One by one, everyone would read it, and be amazed that they, too, had XYZ syndrome. They would discuss the book and quote it at length. Everyone would nod and share their personal anecdotes, and their favorite quotes. It became all we’d talk about at lunch.

It was like watching people being converted to a new religion en masse. Or a pandemic at work.

Finally, the thrill would wear off, the interest would wane. Maybe even a little healthy skeptism would seep in. (“Well, I tried that thing the book said, and it didn’t work at all!“)

Finally we’d return to normal topics of conversation–TV shows, boyfriends or marriage, kids, our stupid bosses, etc.–until the next self-help best seller appeared on the horizon. With its same promise of rescuing us from our own lives.

Part of the reason I never read these books was a) this was before Amazon and Half.com, and I couldn’t afford them, and b) they were so badly written and formulaic, I lost interest after the first couple of chapters.

Nowadays, there are so many self-help books out there now, it’s hard to NOT read them. And I have to admit, there are some really good ones out there, including some just for artists. Now that’s tempting!

But I still rarely finish them. Here’s why I think that’s a good thing:

1) A book either “speaks” to you or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, why waste precious time finishing it?

2) You sense it might be useful, but you don’t really get it.

You may just not be ready to hear what that particular book has to say. You may find it more informative at another time.

3) Once you get the gist of what it’s about, that’s all you really need to know.

Most self-help books are repetitive and wordy, hammering the author’s point home til there’s no room for any other “diagnosis” for what’s wrong with the world. Many are filled with tons of anecdotes to “prove a point”. (Please remember that many authors are paid by the word. Do you think they will write a concise book?)

I’m so not into finishing books that I’ve actually never read one of my favorites, The Nibble Theory completely all the way through–and it’s less than 75 pages long! (And it’s one of the best ones, too.)

I like to skim enough to get why and how the author arrived at their insight, then skip right on to the consequences and suggestions. Most of the time, simply knowing what you are doing, and why it’s holding you back, are enough for you to consider changing the behavior. Otherwise, you are getting something powerful out of holding onto that behavior, and change isn’t going to be easy.

4) In the end, with a self-help book, it’s always about the book, not about you.

I’m going to pick on The Artist’s Way which is actually a really nice book for artists who have totally “fallen off the path”. It’s beautifully written, personable, encouraging and interesting.

The book is about making space–mentally, spiritually, physically, socially, time-wise–to make your art.

So why does the focus of the book seem to be about the exercises?

There are so many exercises, tasks, and recommended readings in the book, it would probably be 75% smaller if these were removed. If you actually did all the exercises, tasks and recommended readings, it would probably take you about seven years to really finish the book.

I have issues with the damn exercises.

Many of them are excellent. I did a couple while reading the book, and they were helpful. But after doing one or two, I quit. I got the point.

I’ve seen so many people fall into focusing on doing the exercises in the book rather than doing their art, they’ve defeated the whole point of reading the book.

Here are the two main themes I’ve taken away from the book: Create your own support system of people who love the artist in you. And think/write about the things that are holding you back, so you can work your way through them. Those two things have been powerful themes in my life since then, and I am grateful for the book.

You may find something different to take away. My point is, you don’t need to “take away” the entire book.

I can’t think that Julia Cameron really intended for people to spend hours and hours following the tenets of her book at the expense of doing their art.

5) Finally, beware the chocolate with the poison center. Yes, self-help books are fun to read. They promise an instant diagnosis and a quick solution for your problems. But as my friend Lee warned me several years ago in my blog essay Stormy Weather eventually, it all comes down to you. Me. Making the art.

As Lee put it that fateful day, when I told him how good the book ART AND FEAR was: “Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”

We don’t have to be brave, or extraordinary. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to “have it all together” or “have it all figured out.”

All we have to do is show up. And do what we’re supposed to do, the best we can, as we can.

55 ALIVE!

Today is my birthday, and I’ve hit the speed limit–55! I was 22 when, according to Wikipedia, the National Maximum Speed Law was enacted in 1974. This entry says it was in response to the gas crisis, which I remember fondly. Isn’t it odd how it was about saving gas, not lives (which was its greatest legacy?) And isn’t it funny how the crisis then “disappeared” for 30 years?

The title? If you’re my age, you remember this slogan from those days–“55 Alive!” Which is also a good slogan for this year, come to think of it.

I digress. I just wanted to add that I’m glad there are no speed limits in how we live our lives. And that sometimes, the legacy we create is not the one we intended.

Today I’m pointing to an old essay I now refer to every birthday, the one I wrote on September 11, 2001. It’s as poignant and meaningful to me as it was that day. It’s become my “secondary artist statement.”

As for the sympathetic murmurings I get that this happened on my birthday, I just want to say that:

1) Everytime something bad happens in the world, it happens on someone’s birthday.

2) Having a birthday to be sad about is better than having no birthday at all.

3) And not even I have an ego so huge, I think 9/11 is all about my birthday. (Although, I hasten to point out, it is entirely human to think so. We are the center of our own universe…)

So here is my essay. It’s a little stilted, as I reread it after all these years. But it’s exactly what happened to me that day, it’s exactly how it happened, and I still believe it.

Enjoy the day!

An Ancient Story for Modern Times

P.S. Even spookier, I see today, is the reference to global warming. The latest article I’ve read says we will probably lose polar bears, and soon. For some reason, this saddens me almost as much as everything else going on.

I cannot imagine a world without polar bears.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #14: Food Fight!

Another small topic in the “Good Booths Gone Bad” series, but one I’ve also given a lot of thought to. Artists often supply candy or munchies for their customers. Today I’ll share my experiences with having food for customers.

I’ve run the gamut with the food thing, and I’m currently down to nothing. No food in the booth. And I have different feelings on food treats at retail shows and wholesale shows.

Here are some of the good stories about food in the booth:

Offering treats to your customers is a nice gesture and can break the ice. In his seminars and CDs about selling, Bruce Baker describes how this helps create an air of hospitality in your booth, by “taking care of your customers.”

This really can be a powerful thing in your booth.

My friend Mark Rosenbaum, glass blower extraordinare from New Orleans, brings homemade pralines to his wholesale shows for his customers and his fellow exhibitors. It’s southern hospitality at its finest–and Mark is originally from Connecticut. As a nice side effect, Mark’s pralines create quite a buzz at the show. Buyers see you with a praline and exclaim, “Oh, I have to get down to Mark’s booth for mine!”

Here’s another great example: At one wholesale show, a buyer burst into my booth. He was obviously exhausted and agitated. He’d had a long, hard, frustrating day.

He’d just flown in from the other coast, his plane had been delayed, he’d been up since the wee hours, and he’d missed a couple of meals. Before I even gave him a chance to look at my work, I offered him a clementine and a chair. He took a seat gratefully, ate several clementines and almonds, and told me about his day. It was a wild one!

We had a pleasant chat, and he left with a “be back” tomorrow. I didn’t really think I’d see him again. It had been a slow show, and we hadn’t even talked about my work or his store.

But he came back the next day to thank me for simply taking care of him. He couldn’t believe I’d put selling on hold and just treated him like a fellow human being. He ended up placing a big order. A REALLY big order!

Other ways food can work in positive ways:

Food treats can provide a welcome distraction to children, giving Mom a few minutes to actually look at your wares.

It can also break the ice with a difficult visitor–say, the bored husband who is doing all the shlepping and none of the actual buying.

Now for the downside of offering food in your booth.

Figuring out what to offer is mind-boggling.

And lately, I’m finding that food, like demonstrating, can attract non-customers to your booth.

Let’s start with food choices.

First, anything you offer should either be individually wrapped, in small packets or naturally “wrapped”–like oranges. Otherwise, you have health issues with people eating things that other people’s hands have touched.

This isn’t too hard, though it can be tricky finding anything other than candy that’s packaged this way. Health food stores and the organic sections in supermarkets are great places to look for healthy snacks. Halloween is a great time to look for individually wrapped treats! Stock up for your winter shows then. Lunch box snacks are also a good alternative, like individual boxes of raisins and such.

Now you have a wrapper to dispose of. This can be another nice little touch–“Here, let me throw that away for you!” But still, it’s just more about the food.

Then there’s the issue of food allergies and sensitivities. These are becoming much more common, especially with children. No peanuts! Or anything that touched peanuts. Or anything that looks like it might know a peanut. I’m jesting a little, but I know that peanut allergies are serious business.

Chocolate is off-putting to people watching their weight. (Also the age-old debate: Dark, milk or white?) It’s also messy in really hot weather. Sugar in any form is a no-no with diabetics (and with our aging demographic, including moi, adult-onset diabetes is an issue. People are really trying to watch their sugar intake.)

Very small children can’t have hard candies, so whatever you provide, you may end up with small lollipops for them.

Cheap, out-of-date, bargain basement candy can be like wilted, bedraggled flowers–yuck!

If treats are chewy, they can’t be too chewy–watch those fillings! If they are hard, they can’t be too hard–jaw breakers have limited appeal to middle-aged people. If they are salty, they can’t be too salty–now I need a drink of water!

Clementines are healthy and juicy, but also messy. You not only have lots of pieces of rind to dispose of, you have a customer with sticky fingers. (I had a packet of baby wipes handy for the guy at my wholesale show.) And even though clementines are small, sometimes people just don’t want to eat a whole one.

Werther’s butterscotches were the perfect choice for many years–individually wrapped, quality candy, a flavor almost everyone likes. People loved them! But the last few years, hardly anyone took them. Again, too many people watching their sugar intake.

You think I’m being fussy about this? A few years ago at a wholesale show, a buyer actually complained to me that too many artists at the show were offering chocolate as a treat! (To his defense, he was trying to watch his weight….) So many of us were providing food that we were overfeeding our buyers.

Here’s the next to last item to chew on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Snacks at retail shows can attract people who have no intention of shopping in your booth.

I’ve had people cruising by in the aisle dart over to my booth to snag a handful of candy as they pass by. They often don’t even look at me as they snag a handful of candy. It feels weird–like I’ve paid $1,100 to be at the show so I can assuage their hunger pangs.

I’ve had the kids of fellow exhibitors discover my “candy stash” and help themselves liberally at every opportunity–until I gently pointed out that the candy was for my customers. (To give them credit, they cut it out once I mentioned that. They aren’t bad, just young.)

And as for distracting children for their parents’ sake, we’ve seen that people with kids are rarely actually shopping. We’ve noticed over the years that people who are taking care of other people are usually at the show for the edutainment factor. I don’t begrudge them this. I’m glad they’re there, exposing their kids and companions to the beauty of handmade craft.

But amusing their kids so they can shop is more a function of me being a sympathetic mom than actually thinking a purchase is going to come of it.

I don’t mean to sound cold-hearted and soulless about selling. I don’t expect everyone in my booth to buy something. I love schmoozing with people and I love taking care of people in my booth.

But I’m also there to make a living selling my work. I’m not there to feed or entertain the general public endlessly. When I started to feel like the kind lady at the office who always has a bowl of candy on her desk, who realizes people are simply standing around eating her candy, I knew it was time to do something else.

Now I’m more likely to simply share MY food with customers who really need it.

I tend to bring the same kinds of food anyway–things that are small and bite-sized, easy to munch on between busy times. Things that are as healthy as I can manage at a show. Things that are comfort food.

And the notion of sharing MY food is even more powerful than that bowl of candy. If a customer really looks hot and tired, it’s nice to say, “Hey, I was just going to have a clementine–would you like a few sections?” Or “I packed an extra packet of raisins–have some!”

It also says I see them as an individual who may be tired or hungry, and not just as a customer. It actually makes me feel more kind than just having a bowl of candy out.

My last and biggest reason for not having candy in the booth?

I EAT IT!!

So again, food for thought. (Sorry! Sorry!!!) If none of this resonates with you, then do what’s working for you.

But if you find yourself nodding your head to any of this, then don’t feel guilty about pulling the food treats. Think of other ways to engage and take care of your customers.

BLACK BELT PEAK

I had a talk with my Tae Kwon Do instructor the other night. I can’t remember the proper title for him, and sensei isn’t it. I’ll try to find out before I post this.

We were talking about my goals for my study, and whether I should/could/would strive for black belt. Part of me wants to do this. Another part recognizes that my age and physical condition will make this difficult–and certainly a very different process than that of an 18-year-old or young adult.

He shared with me a concept that really got me thinking. He talked about the concept of perfect black belt peak.

He said that ideally, a black belt candidate has reached a certain peak of physical and mental/spiritual perfection.

Sometimes, though, those peaks just don’t coincide. A very young candidate has reached a level of physical perfection–but perhaps the mental/spiritual aspects need more time to mature. Older candidates–those who come to the sport later in life–may have missed that window of physical perfection. But they may also bring a rich and deep level of mental/spiritual perfection.

Ideally, a program accommodates all three kinds of candidates. The young black belt continues to grow and mature. The older candidate struggles constantly to do the best they can with their growing physical limitations.

At first I felt a rush of disappointment. Yes, I’ve definitely missed that perfect black belt peak. I’ve missed many windows in this art! And, in a quick burst of dismay, I realized I’ve missed so many other “perfect peaks” in other areas of my life.

I never went to art school. I never traveled much as a young person. I didn’t take a lot of challenges when it came to work, or so many other things in life.

Just as quickly, I came back to myself. My life is what it is. And there are some areas in my life where I have found that window, and I have been brave, and I have taken risks.

And the biggest obstacles in my life have been when I’ve given up because I felt I’d missed the opportunity for the perfect peak.

Do you do this? Walk away from your dreams because you see that the opportunity for the perfect peak has passed?

I hear it all the time. “It’s too late to go back to school.” “I’m too old to do that.” “I don’t want to try that, I wouldn’t be good at it.”

Life isn’t always about the perfect peak. When it happens, it’s a small miracle. Most of the time, though, we are dealing with missed windows, missed opportunities, imperfect peaks.

What matters is that you want to try–because it’s important to you.

I’m pretty sure what my answer will be about the black belt test. It terrifies me! I know that everything I’ve ever said “no” to, everything I’ve said I’m not good at, will be on that test.

Because that’s what a black belt test is–testing what’s left when your strength, your endurance and your wind is gone. The test isn’t just about how good you are.

It’s about what you do when you think there’s nothing left in you.

For me, it will be about knowing my limits. But it will also be about not giving up.

I hope the next time you hear yourself saying, “I’m too old”, “I’m not good enough”, “It’s too late”, that you’ll take minute to stop and really think….

“How badly do I want this?”

and “What am I willing to do to get there?”

and “Do I really care how long it takes me to get there?”

and “What would it mean to me to be on the other side? To be able to say…..”

I DID IT!

P.S. Just to give you context for where I am in martial arts, here is the last time I blogged about my goal for black belt: Leaving

LOOKING FOR A HORSE

When I had my little cancer scare a few weeks ago, some surprising things came of it.

I’ve been through this before–suddenly realizing you may not be around for another Christmas, another New England spring, another round of baby bunnies. Maybe there won’t be “plenty of other times” to take the family to a silly movie, or go get ice cream.

It brings you up short, this little calling card from death. It makes you think really, really hard about what is really important. And what you really want to do today. Today.

It’s a great wake-up call.

So it was interesting when in the middle of my first talk with my dear husband, when I had my first panic attack, about what this might mean for us if the news got bad, what popped out was,

“Can I have a horse?”

We both laughed as soon as I said that. I sounded like a kid. It really took me back to my childhood, when I would have given anything to have a horse.

But maybe it’s not so funny.

After my last round of knee surgeries five years ago, I actually promised myself riding lessons as a way of getting me through my long recuperation and physical therapy. I’m been happily riding once a week since then, and loving it.

Recently I’ve been riding Missouri Fox Trotters with a friend of a friend. It’s deliriously fun! Their trot is like a fish wiggle. Trail riding is a wild, exuberant dash up and down our steep New Hampshire trails. I LOVE it!

And of course, an ancient little horse is where it all began for my art.

But actually own a horse? Be responsible for the care of such a large and expensive animal every day, in summer and winter, rain or shine? During black fly season???!!

Well, maybe I’ll lease a horse instead.

But it’s still a thing of wonder. Over the years, I’ve heard incredible stories of women who went looking for their horse, and incredible stories of how their horses found them.

The stories are beautiful and moving and powerful–because horses can be hugely healing and profoundly powerful animals to be around. (A little too huge and profound when one is standing on your foot….)

I know when it’s time for me to have a horse, a horse will appear. And it will seem as magical and wonderful as that sentence sounds.

So here we are, two very busy professional people with kids still at home and aging parents and full personal lives.

Jon is waiting for a dog.

And I am looking for my horse.