Booth Life

For the last two weekends, I have been at the Portland Rose Festival, typing my ass off out in the hot sun, trying to sell my Snarky Cards to the general, family-having public.

I have a hard time when I do Craft Fair’s in general. I hate sitting and waiting for people to pay attention to me. I hate doing it in any aspect of my life. If I want attention, I go get it. That’s part of why I like selling in bars so much; there I have control of the selling situation. If no-one’s into me at that particular bar, then I just leave, and go to a different bar. And that’s really what gets me about being a vendor at a show, or a Festival or a Fair. I hate having no control. I hate sitting there and being at the whim of the weather, traffic, other people’s schedules.

And then there’s my co-workers. Crafters who are not crafting bitch. About everything. Their boyfriends, they’re husbands, their children, the organizers of the Fair, the stupidity of the customers, the weather, the traffic. And I can’t really blame them. Portland Craft Shows are hard. They don’t make much money, because these shows are everywhere and often. Portlanders have grown immune to our charming wares. Craft Fairs have largely become free entertainment for Portlanders, who don’t have a lot of money to start with.

The bitching sometimes gets to me. And so does what’s underneath the bitching, every one of us at these Fairs is looking for that magic bullet. The solution to our Not Successful Enough problem. We bitch because we’re looking for the solution.

“There is no magic bullet” Arlette always reminds me, when I get carried away, delighted that I’ve finally found the solution. The one thing that I know will make Snarky Cards famous forever, and usher me from the wilderness of the legally poor into the warmth of the lower-middle class. I used to get annoyed when she said that, but she’s always been right. Building a business, and a product is so fucking hard. And you have to do it like a house, one brick at a time. There’s no magic anything that gets it done better or faster than one brick at a time. But unlike a house, each business takes its own path. You never know who’s going to want your shit. And you have to follow need. So you try everything, and you keep doing what works, and a lot of lessons cost you time and money. And sometimes it’s hard to sit and listen to my peers looking for magic. Other people have co-workers, or business peers. But we mostly work in isolation. This is the only time we get to feel like we belong.

I didn’t do all this myself. I had an Army of Rad Chicks helping me. Arlette opened my etsy store. Kaytea bought this website and pays for it every month. Kay gave me the advice to keep going when I wanted to give up. Ilana designed the website and installed word press. Betsy let me borrow her scanner. Devlyn scans my Snarky Cards in when Betsy’s busy. Arlette lets me bitch at her when things go wonky.

I also work 90 hours a week. It’s 40 hours a week making cards, and 40 hours a week trying to sell the cards I made, and about 10 hours a week going to all of my stores and re-upping their supply, collecting money, etc. So I would like to find a magic bullet as much as anybody else. But with 2 years of 60-90 hour weeks behind me, I get that it’s not coming.

This show has been different, in that while I still feel a loss of control, and I’ve heard a lot of kvetching, it’s been a long-term thing. Usually it’s four to eight hours of you trying desperately to figure out if you’re doing something wrong, or if no-one is buying anything at the whole Craft Fair, and you’re just feeling that, same as anyone else.

At the Rose Festival, I’ve worked four 12 hour days at the same place for the last two weeks. And my fellow vendors are starting to feel like co-workers, which is an odd feeling for me. I haven’t had co-workers or a boss in two years. It’s weird to wake up and go to the same place, and work there regularly over and over again. It’s also kind of nice. I think that The Rose Festival is giving me a sense of community I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

And more than that, Jackie and Merritt, who run this show, and a First Thursday show have been amazing. More than any other organizers of any show I’ve been a part of, they have done their best to pay attention to the bottom line. They work hard every day to figure out how we can maximize traffic. And they want us to be comfortable too. They made a curtained off area in the corner, where we weary vendors can take naps. They brought sunscreen and water, and they periodically check in to make sure that we’re all OK. It helps that they’re vendors too, so they want this show to make them some money as much as we do.

Doesn't the Cosmopolitan Soap look good?
Doesn't the Cosmopolitan Soap look good?

Jackie makes luxurious soaps, out of Vegan ingrediants; a lot of which are from essential oils, and therefore really good for your skin. Like, this Cosmopolitan soap has lime oil which acts as an antiseptic, antiviral, and is restorative. Also: I had no idea that Cranberry Seeds make a good exfoliant. Jackie is one of those totally hot, short, tattooed chicks who is very small and whom you swear will kick your ass quickly if you do something she doesn’t like. I think I would be scared of her if she hadn’t already been so kind to me.

cooziesMerrit makes Kick-Ass Koozies, which she can sew words next to. I got a Strawberry Shortcake Koozy and I made Merritt sew “I love Vagina!” next to Strawberry’s cute little face (because you know that girl was a total muff-diver). And I got a Unicorn Koozy that I made Merritt sew “I Love Drugs!” onto. Because everyone knows that Unicorns are drug addicts. But no-one ever talks about it. She can make PG Koozies too, you can ask for whatever you like. I just, you know, have a really dirty mind. Merritt is one of those really good-hearted people you never want to disappoint. She and Jackie are a perfect balance of each other. You hope to live up to Merritt’s expecations, and if you don’t, Jackie will make sure you’re sorry.

palms-up
Aren't his pictures dreamy?

Also, my friend Christopher Bibby is at the show. St. Christopher paints crooked bridges in bright colors. They’re beautiful, and he’s smart and funny. We know each other the way all artists know each other in this town, I saw him at Last Thursday last year. It’s been really fun hanging out with him. He told me that my shit reminds him of SARK. Which is rad. Because I met SARK ten years ago, and it was a transformative experience. SARK hand-writes self-help books. It looks like she hand-writes them with markers. They’re messy, and full of ordinary stories about people being afraid, and doing hard stuff anyway, and giving themselves a break.

succulent-wild

Her book, Succulent Wild Woman became my bible. I carried it around in my purse from the time I was 19 to the time I was 24. I used to call her voice mail and leave her messages when life got really hard. And 2 years ago, when I realized all I really wanted to do with my life was make myself a writer, I looked at my collection of her books, and I realized that if she can do it, I can too.

So when St. Christopher said that I reminded him of her, I heard myself breathe really deep. Because I felt understood. I don’t think I’ve ever really hung out with a bunch of artists before. And while I haven’t sold very many Snarky Cards at The Rose Festival, this sense of community is worth the sunburns and the bitching and the hoarse voice. So, if you aren’t doing anything tomorrow, come and see me and my new friends at The Portland Rose Festival. We’re having a pretty terrific time.

4 thoughts on “Booth Life

  • June 5, 2009 at 8:31 pm
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    This is a great blog. I now realize that I need to quit.

    You have confirmed all that I have felt from other artisans in Portland and I refuse to join any of the “cliques”. It is fucking hard work to put on a show and no one appreciates it, just bitch bitch bitch about everything and blame the promoter for their lack of sales. And I always think “Well you know, maybe those particular patrons just weren’t into what you had to sell! Did you ever think that this might not be all my fault? You showed up, with your shit, and nobody wanted it. Is that really my responsibility?”

    Portlanders (vendors and patrons) are a strange breed – want everything handed to them on a silver platter and spend all their free time figuring out how to fuck with people.

    So thank you very much for making it clear that I should turn and RUN!
    I do love your cards and wish you all the luck

  • June 5, 2009 at 10:43 pm
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    Thanks, Dude, for saying that my post is relevant to your life. But I’m worried that I totally turned you off to your lifes work. I hope that whatever you quit was bad for you, and whatever you do next is good for you.

  • June 6, 2009 at 11:57 am
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    No, I’ll just move. Portland is a fucking dead end. Wake up and become part of the real world people!!! It’s 2009 for christ’s sake!

  • June 7, 2009 at 8:57 pm
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    I wasn’t sure where to post a comment for you, but this seemed like a good place, as your “booth” is where my husband and I discovered you and your wonderful Snarky Cards! He was the one that suggested a “Keep your junk outta my trunk!” card. 🙂 I could imagine that it would be exhausting dealing with all of the elements (not just the public), and often stressful. But I just wanted you to know that we thought you and your cards were FANTASTIC!! We have three young children, and don’t get to go on “dates” with each other very often, but your booth and cards and awesome self made our whole day!! We have told all of our friends and family about you, and shown them the cards we bought, as well as given them your website. Please don’t ever quit!! Thank you for sharing your creativity and sense of humor! I wish there were more people like you in the world! 🙂

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