Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflections on 2nd Weekend

If 1st Weekend of the MN Renaissance Festival was a bit wonky for me, 2nd Weekend tried hard to make up for it.

It began showering me with blessings right away on Friday evening, from the huge dragonfly sunning itself in my ivy to the two bats that circled the interior of my shop before roosting in its rafters to the dear friends who kept me company until nearly midnight as I did last-minute work.
This was MADE for me!

Saturday began with the ever-appreciated coffee. A Fest friend who once caught me spooning granules from a jar of Instant has been hand-delivering a cup to me every morning now for years. And as if that wasn't enough, there was also a still-warm blueberry scone, and later a slab (only word for it) of banana cake and a homebaked loaf of quickbread so dang moist it wilted my princess hair just by opening the bag and inhaling its fruity fragrance. And I must not forget the ground cherries (or as I like to call them: 'sweet little fairy presents wrapped in tissue paper leaves').

Jimmy and his brother, both looking too sharp for words.
And that was just the foodstuffs. Did I mention the handmade woolen beret, complete with monarch butterfly charm? Or the surprise of the aforementioned princess hair? Or how about all the regenerating hugs. Or the visit from some fave customers who made my day by telling me, "Don't take this the wrong way BUT -- visiting you is worth the price of admission because it's like a show." (That comment still makes my socks go up and down.)

And the images.... I saw a woman wearing an octopus on her shoulder. And a tough-looking dad with tattoo sleeves and sunglasses carrying around his little daughter's American Girl doll. I saw familiar faces I haven't seen in ages. I saw my friend Jimmy in his wedding clothes, I saw my friend Jamie propose to his lady -- both gentlemen so dang excited to enter this new phase of their lives that their emotions were infectious. (I'm not used to guys like that. It was heartwarming. And a little heartbreaking, too....) And I saw the most beautiful Blood Moon rise over the Fest grounds just as our own Minnesota Morris Men glided -- haunting and bell-less and beautiful -- over the site, bestowing their blessings.

I reconnected with my favorite fairy ever on Sunday and also met her real-life fairygrandmother, whose wings may have been concealed, but her beauty and sparkles and grace and magick weren't. And I released a monarch at the end of the day and it brought back comedian Scott Novotne and his family! So even my butterflies brought me gifts.... I'm not worthy!

On his daughter Kinsey's hair is the butterfly responsible for my brush with fame.
As always, I learned a lot about myself on this second weekend in a row of stepping out of my comfort zone. Not necessarily good stuff or bad stuff. Just stuff.... A short-change artist took advantage of me earlier in the day, not surprisingly. A dear friend tried to buy me a beer and I somehow negated the gesture (how does one even do that?). And try as I might, I couldn't hide from the probing tendrils of the soul-sucking energy vampires that I swear descend on Fest every year and search out my heart. I think I'm prepared every season, too, and then BOOM.... There's a lesson to be learned there, obviously. Stuff to think about and put into perspective.

Mmmm. Home again. And in Recovery Mode.
By Sunday night I was as friable as a cicada husk, and getting out of garb was a big old effort. During the course of doing so, the resident bandersnatch began its lumbering ascent of the exterior of my shop, scrabbling and heaving itself to my roof before once again attempting to return to the crawlspace in my ceiling. I had hardly the energy to repeat my annual can-you-at-least-wait-until-after-season plea let alone try to frighten it away with the end of my broom....

It's now the day after. And even real food, rattie kisses, Epsom salts in my boiling-hot bath, and a good night's sleep haven't managed to repair me....



According to my Fest friends and neighbors the weekend was $urprisingly $weet, which is so unusual for an early weekend, especially one that coincides with the State Fair. But it wasn't for me, which isn't so unusual. And once again I'm learning things about my art and what it brings (or doesn't bring) to the table. I'm not sure if I can put the lessons into words yet, but it's pointing to being less about my work and more about me.

And I'm not sure yet how I feel about that.

But it's giving me lots to think about....

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Weird & Wonderful 1st Weekend

Sweet little lion man!
First weekend of Fest has come and gone. I don't think I even tasted it....

Sadly, last Saturday -- Opening Day -- was the first time in 30 years I've missed an entire day of Fest when it was in progress. I did so gladly (there was a family emergency to which I gave my caring support), but missing that first day knocked me out of alignment with the Fest Flow, and being there on Sunday felt like I was in a parallel reality where I could watch and observe but not really interact. Friends walked past me. Familiar faces looked through me. I felt like my season needed a quick reboot.

Funny thing, I can recall years ago being 'kidnapped' during a Fest day and led to an on-site trailer backstage where Cast friends were taking a break from the dust and the heat to watch a movie. Actor Gerard Butler was in it and many of my female friends needed their daily swoon, apparently. Because I had no idea who he was at the time, this movie was meant to be my initiation, and so I politely hung around to appreciate a few of his scenes while James manned the shop (we both worked together in a single shop back then).

But being indoors on a Fest day and watching a movie -- even for half an hour! -- was enough to throw off my weekend, and I can still remember how odd it felt to return to 'work' again afterwards....

Last Saturday I'd gotten on-site after the evening cannon, so already I was confused. In my head it was the Friday before Opening Day. But that super-charged, storm-on-the-horizon energy wasn't there.... My shop already had a 'lived-in' feel to it, having been open to customers and friends for an entire day. The wonderful women who took over for me in my absence had made it their own, moving things around to fit their needs, setting up the counter to their own taste. Showing up now felt a bit like an intrusion.... 

Add to that the fact that, because of the previous day's rain, I was unable to drive on-site to unload, so many of my props, products, and costume pieces were left at home to avoid having to lug them all somehow on a shuttle bus from a far-away parking location. That meant butterflies as well. Things just weren't the same.

In addition to the 'surrealness' of missing Opening Cannon, it was doubly hard to come off a day of sadness and put on a smile. I'm sure no one I spoke to could tell how wonky my first day's experience was unless I told them so; I like to think I'm pretty good at hiding all that when it's necessary.


Even though I was there for Sunday only, I still enjoyed a lot of hugs and highlights: Familiar faces, folks I only see during the run of the show, customers who are like family now.... I held a sweet boy whose impending birth I kept a secret last season when his expectant mama shared with me her happy news. When we were finally introduced and I took him in my arms, she burst into sweet tears. Priceless.... I saw a ghost and took its picture!... And before the day was over, resident bat 'Bacardi' flew circles around the shop before tucking in behind my mirror.... It was a weird and wonder-filled day.

And when everything was over and I finally checked my phone, it was to discover that other Festfolke had posted updates and highlights, which were wonderful to see, as I didn't leave Mayfaire that Sunday other than to visit the privy. 

I learned via social media that some of the Usual Suspects weren't a part of Fest this season, and that broke my heart. And I saw tear-jerk-worthy posts from former Festies who spent First Weekend curled on the couch, wallowing in memories and wishing they were with us all on-site. It made me want to buy them all plane fare and comp tickets so that they could join us. I'd still do so if I could.

And now 2nd Weekend fast approacheth. James tells me I'll feel normal again once I return to my regularly-scheduled routine. He's right, I'm sure. And I'll take care to write again next week and share the highlights.

Until then, my friend! Huzzah. :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Me and the 'M' Word

These are just Ones but they still make me nervous....
Exactly a year ago I wrote a pre-Fest post that I never finished and never published....

It was all about the 'M' word -- 'money' -- and how I just can't seem to wrap my head around it.

I joke that I'm allergic to money. I know people who are killing themselves to earn it, and others who are asshats because of it. Money makes me anxious, it keeps me awake at night. I hate thinking about it; it ties my stomach up in knots....

Yes, I get that money "makes the world go 'round" and all that. I may be silly but I do understand why it exists. And I do understand how ridiculous it is to pretend it's not important.

But dang. I wish it wasn't so necessary....

Now that the Fest season is looming again the 'M' word is uppermost on my mind. I'm forced to once again acknowledge that dollar sign, make tentative eye contact with it, awkwardly renew our strange little relationship and dance the uncomfortable dance of commerce. Because I have a business (if you can even call it that) Fest's seven busy weekends are essentially all about the Making of Money; there's no getting around it. And if I'm smart I'll figure out a way for the two of us to get the heck along. Learn those dance steps already. Take it to the next level....

Ideas for this year's products have been fleshed out, and now they need printing, packaging, framing. Sums are adding up quickly and I already have costs to recoup, more bills to pay.... I must sell my work in order to pay those bills. And then sell it some more so I can hopefully live frugally again for another year so I can do it all over again.

Fest -- aka The Minnesota Renaissance Festival -- is my primary gig now. I used to do other shows, but doing so took its toll, and now that I'm the age I am I find that all the travel and set-up drains me almost as much as the Meet-and-Greet. And although I can apparently act like an extrovert when necessary, the recovery time needed afterward is phenomenal, and I eventually discovered that Fest was about as much spotlight as I could take; the remainder of the year gave me barely enough time to bounce back.

But I couldn't give up art shows completely. Fest was my first, it's where I began. And I found that being somewhere where folks can find me, see me, meet me, talk with me, is somehow tremendously important to my sales (boom: my Catch22). I'd have thought just the opposite, frankly -- that I'd be my own worst enemy -- but my records show that I have far better sales when I'm in attendance and actively engaged than when I'm not. So it helps a LOT to 'gird my loins,' step out of my comfort zone, and make the most of every Fest moment, and I do what I can.

Even though Fest is seasonal and occurs for only seven weekends in the fall, it keeps my boat afloat from one year to the next. But just barely. And only if conditions are right. Throw in some bad weather (or a host of other unforeseen predicaments/situations) and the final numbers can be disastrous. It doesn't take much. Even an afternoon of Too Many Chatty Friends Crowding Out Too Few Buying Customers can send me over the money cliff....

I know I could do better. I'm just not sure how, exactly. I don't want to be That Artist who goes for everyone's wallet. I've been around artists like that, who can't bother to be nice until you show them the color of your cash.... I want those who visit my Fest shop to walk away with a good memory, even if they don't buy anything.

Well-meaning folks tell me that I need to 'take my business seriously' (I do, don't I??) and they offer me suggestions: Illustrate their e-story/children's book/graphic novel 'for the exposure.' Draw more birds of prey with 'something dead in their talons.' Create cartoony caricatures of impossibly-proportioned female superheroes, or draw manga/anime vampires, or otherwise fill-in-the-blank. Others tell me to suck it up already and sell my work as tattoo flash. Or design calendars, license my characters, do a Mary Engelbreit and create an arty empire!

The list goes on....

And I listen. I really do. All are sound ideas even if some of them give me the heebie-jeebies. Few of them interest me, though -- I want to draw what I want to draw.... Plus, the logistics of making their suggestions happen is all so weird and complicated to me. Tattoo flash? Calendar printing? Licensing?? None of those things just happen. They require something that I don't have. Money, for one thing. Connections, for another. And for the rest I really wouldn't know where to start.

Not only that but the seven weekends of Fest already feel like Big (Scary) Business to me. In addition to being around-the-clock work, they also mean having to step out of my comfort zone so dang far that I have to retreat to the rabbit hole immediately afterward. Plus, I get as much attention there as I could ever want in my entire life.

So it's my own fault that I'm not as successful as maybe I could be.

Imagining my art on Hot Topic t-shirts or in the pages of Faerie Magazine is both fun and frightening. And even the happy little fantasy of it in my head feels like too much attention. That Mary Engelbreit-like empire sounds terrifying, too. I can't help but equate it with being rich and famous, which to me is one of the Seven Levels of Hell.

I know I should be 'in it to win it.' Or if winning isn't my thing, I should at least run with intent. I have a business, after all; maximizing my profits should be my goal, right? But the money part isn't what's important to me about being an artist. Creating things that make people smile is. I just wish brightening a person's day could also pay an artist's bills....

It frequently frustrates me to be that person who can't seem to figure this art thing out, especially since I've been doing it forever and am still just as clueless. And it doesn't help that I'm surrounded by a host of creative folks who are winning the game. I know they're savvy and work HARD, yet in comparison they make it look like boom, boom, boom -- success! What does that tell me? That for all my decades of trying to do this thing, I still suck so badly at it that maybe I should just throw in the towel.

But I can't throw in the towel. I might not be a businessperson, but I am an artist. I love what I do! Especially when it brightens someone's day. When that happens, the feeling is inde-freakin'-scribable. It's as if my heart blew a gentle kiss and it came back full circle like a solid-gold boomerang at full speed to knock the wind out of me and fill me up again x 10. WHOOSH. I just want to do it all again -- wash, rinse, repeat.

That process -- idea, creation, share, surprise, smile -- defines my work and why I do it. Add money into the equation and it tips the scales negatively. Something doesn't work out right. Does that make sense? I can't explain it.... It's like I'm happiest when I'm creating art in secret, to be gifted to an unsuspecting soul who just needs a pick-me-up. I don't even need to see them receive it! I don't even need to know who they are. Just creating that art with the intention of sharing it is healing for me somehow; it fills my well, and I do it as much for myself as I do it with others in mind. Going on then to imagine that my creation will be just what that person needs when they need it most is satisfying to me. Almost like payment.


But in the Real World it's not at all like payment. And payment is important.

Maybe I just need the right someone who can take what I do and make it work for me, financially as well as spiritually. Maybe I just need a big-ass dose of Art Management, or a semester of Biz101, or simply some sense knocked into me.

Or perhaps I'm just an artist who fears success. Ouch.


I find that rereading this post kind of makes me like myself. Go figure.

And that's a surprise that I needed today.