Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is it a Hobby or is it Art?

One of the best unintended consequences of blogging is a link on the Blogger dashboard (where you can go and manage your blogs and keep track of the blogs you are following) called “stats”.  If you click on this link it takes you to a place where you can see how many people have checked out your posts, where in the world your readers are, and even where your traffic comes from.  A lot of my traffic comes from my Facebook fan page or my twitter account, but often there are links to other sites.  Often I’ll follow them to see where traffic is coming from, and last week I found this reference: where they were discussing my zombie sock monkey.  I’d have loved to jump on and thank them for the mention and discussion, but I’ve still not been granted membership.  I mostly want to thank them for making me think about what exactly I am trying to do on Etsy. 
          I started out on Etsy as a fund raiser for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.  I was pretty successful selling vintage items out of my stash and quirky knit things (bacon scarves especially) to willing buyers.  I knit as a hobby.  I find it soothing to have something to do with my hands while I watch trashy TV.  I had been cranking out baby blankets for gifts and the occasional hat or pair of mittens.  A few years ago, I saw a kit for sale for a sock monkey and wardrobe here: Carmen Bananas Pattern and thought it would be a fun project.  It was a little more challenging than I’d been used to, but it showed me that I could knit in three dimensions and actually produce something quirky and cute.  One day I found some white yarn with gray twisted through it and it looked just like the kind of yarn used for more traditional sock monkeys, but just a different color combo. 
          Before I go any further I should probably mention that I have an art degree.  I pursued an art degree because I have the impulse to create.  Unfortunately I don’t have the focus and drive it takes to make a living in art.  For years after I'd graduated from college and raised my family, I’ve tried to squash down this impulse or find other outlets, like painting murals a the kids’ elementary school, or retouching photos for friends, but until I stumbled upon the idea to knit a sock monkey with this white and gray yarn did I feel really energized.  At first I thought I’d make an albino sock monkey, but that seemed neither kind nor particularly noteworthy.  Because I’d been selling a few things on Etsy, I’d had seen that there was a market for the right kind of quirky, and I didn’t think that albino would have enough pizzazz.  Since I’ve jumped on the zombie bandwagon, with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and The Walking Dead, a zombie sock monkey seemed to have the right blend.  I started out thinking that I could crank out a lot of these and sell them for a reasonable price. 
          Quickly I realized that this monkey had turned into a much bigger thing than just a toy to crank out in quantity.  It had become a full-fledged obsession and a much more satisfying creative outlet than I’d had in years.  I knew I was out of control when I was pouring over my daughter’s anatomy books to get the embroidery on the muscles just right.  As I read the banter back and forth between the folks on about my monkey, I’ve been forced to confront the fact that while I plan to put it up for sale on Etsy (closer to the second season of The Walking Dead and Christmas), it will be presented at a far higher price than a toy purchaser would probably want to pay.  I will price it more as a piece of sculpture with the understanding that I might not sell.  I may not have the focus to try to support myself with art, but I at least have the focus to complete something and be satisfied to the point that I am willing to part with it, confident that there are more ideas where that one came from.  Knitting may still be a hobby, but maybe I can use it to create, if not art, then a facsimile.  At least I am satisfied that I am making a step in the right direction.  Who knows?  Real art might not be that far away.
The Butcher

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Brief Intermission

          Thanks to all of you who stopped by last week while I went off on my Abercrombie & Fitch rant.  I think I am better now, but there is no telling when this might rear its ugly head again.  For those of you who didn’t stop by, let me just tell you that I went a little nuts when I heard that Abercrombie & Fitch offered someone on “The Jersey Shores” money to NOT wear their clothes.  I then went out and bought a way too small A&F shirt at Salvation Army and posted a really unflattering photo of myself in said shirt.  I invited others to do the same in hopes that maybe they’d pay US not to wear their clothes.  So far a few folks have said they might, and I will post them if they do, but I’ve not gotten much feedback.  I warn you that this is not flattering, but you can see it here:  Abercrombie & Fitch Page.
          I’ve had some time to analyze why this drove me so nuts.  I realize that this is most likely a publicity stunt to get people talking about this store right at school clothes shopping time.  It also probably drove a lot of people to check out a crappy MTV reality show that they might not have watched otherwise.  Truth be told, I was way too cheap as a parent for my kids to even ask to go into that store, and since my kids are well out of high school and buying their own clothes, it is really a moot point, but it drove me crazy nonetheless.
          Abercrombie & Fitch, you have the right to sell crappy, trendy, overpriced clothes with your store name in big letters all over them.  You have the right to use sexualized images of flawless young people to advertise you wares.  Stupid and suggestible people on dumb reality shows have the right to buy them and wear them and do whatever they choose - drink until you throw up and black out, have random sex with each other, fight, scream, cry and urinate in any number of inapproriate places.  You have the right to reap the profits when other dumb people see this and buy your clothes.  What you don’t have a right to do is complain about this in an effort to distance yourself from a circumstance that you created.  If parents won’t buy their kids your clothes because they don’t want their kids associated with anything the cast of “The Jersey Shores” does, to include wearing your clothes, then you need to suck it up and deal with it.  You need to be happy with the customers you have, and if you are not, you need to reevaluate your corporate philosophy.  If I have to take personal responsibility for my actions, you need to do the same with your brand.
          That being said, I still think that there is a project here.  I am tempted to buy an armload of A&F shirts at Salvation Army and either silk screen or iron on or write with marker all over them.  I want to write something like “If you pay me enough, I’ll stop wearing A&F” or “Friends don’t let friends wear Abercrombie & Fitch” and then sell them at a modest price for people to wear as a statement.  I want people to photograph themselves wearing their statement, and for every photo someone sends me of themselves, I will donate money to the American Cancer Society so people with real problems will benefit from this silliness.  I am picturing more of a global art project with each shirt being worn and photographed on many people in many locations.  Of course that will take time and effort.  Do you even think it is worth the effort?  I am seriously interested in your thoughts and ideas.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get off my soapbox and get back to painting a bedroom which is the closest thing to an art project I have.
The Butcher

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past - Part 3

The Accounting Department
As odd as it seems, when I went to high school in the late 1970s, college didn’t seem all that important.  Instead of taking a lot of college prep courses, I’d taken half day data processing classes at the brand new vocational school our district had opened.  I remember the counselor trying to talk me out of going to the career prep center.  She tried to lead me to a more academic path, but I knew that what I wanted was a job and computers sounded like fun and they also sounded like a path to a job, so I stuck to my guns and went to vocational school.      
I am the oldest in a family with seven kids, and I knew that if I’d had a plan for my life and really wanted to go to college, my folks would have done what they could to help.  I also understood that since I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, college seemed like a waste of time and money.  I’d earned some cash in high school and I really liked the freedom that came with having my own money.  I didn’t really mind the responsibilities that came with it either, so after two years of training in data processing, I graduated from high school and my computer teacher kindly recommended me for a job in the accounting department of a local trucking company, and I entered the full time workforce.
Since I was still living at home and I had a cheap but dependable used car, I was able to spend a lot of my earnings on myself.  I bought clothes and tickets to concerts, I went on trips, paid my own car insurance, had a blast, but really had nothing to show for it.  I am glad I had that time when the stakes were relatively low and I could make mistakes with little consequence and was able to get a lot of dumb ideas out of my system. 
All the time I was working I noticed something about a lot of the people, particularly the women, I worked with.  Most of them were not that much older than I was, but most of them seemed so defeated.  It wasn’t just one kind of person who fell into this category, but almost everyone seemed miserable.  I still don’t know if they felt trapped by their circumstances or if the were just profoundly unhappy, but for the first time I took a good hard look at my future and decided that I needed a better plan for my life. 
Luckily too, a lot of my friends did start college right out of high school.  None of my friends went away to school, but there were two good universities and a community college all within an easy commute from our homes, so they all worked part time and went to school full time.  I wasn’t ready to quit my job, but I did decide to start taking basic classes at the community college in anticipation of going to college full time once I decided on a plan. 
I worked at that trucking company for about two years, and learned that sometimes the best thing a job can teach you is what you DON’T want to do with your life.  Sometimes a job can give you a place to take a break and gather some resources to make the next big leap.  Lest you think everything about that job was terrible, one of my coworkers set me up on a blind date with her fiancĂ©e’s divorced buddy.  I went out with him a few weeks before I moved away to go to film school, ended up dating him for eight years, and we’ve been married for over twenty five years.  All in all, it was not a bad deal, if I do say so myself.
The Butcher

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past - Part 2

The Bakery Years
After a few years of babysitting, I got a job at a bakery in the mall.  It was pretty good job, I liked the ladies I worked with, I never had to work past 9 pm, and I learned a lot.
1.   You can get too much of a good thing.  Even the tastiest treats looked terrible after a very short period of time.  This told me that if I loved to do something, I may need to decide if I wanted to do it for money and risk getting sick of it, or keep it a hobby.  The jury is still out on this one.
2.   People are all pretty much the same.  “I want the cookies without any calories” is something I’d hear constantly and each customer thought it was amusing.  I usually pretended it was because part of my job was to keep the customers coming back.  I now drive my own kids nuts with my witty repartee out in public, but I can carry on chit chat with just about anyone.  Usually, the people I talk with are kind and tolerant. 
3.   Having to go to work makes me more efficient with all of my time.  I utilize and appreciate my free time way more when I have to show up somewhere.  This tells me I might not do well at being self-employed.
4.   It is nice to work at a job where people are usually happy to see you and the goods you are selling and the worst thing you are going to smell like at the end of a shift is jelly.  I have not always been as lucky.
5.   If you keep your ears open and your mouth shut when a bunch of married ladies start talking about their husbands, you will learn an incredible amount about things your mom probably won’t talk about.  At least she won’t talk about them with you.  This lesson has served me the best.  Since then, I’ve known to shut up and pay attention first, and try to chose wisely who sees the real me, and pay attention to what I say because you never know who might be listening.     

The Butcher