Monday, August 9, 2010

Crafts Show

Went to a crafts show nearby yesterday, with the intention of getting mental stimulation and some pottery bowls.

It was a big show, with potters and jewelers and weavers and woodworkers and glassblowers, and lots of people looking and buying and trying on stuff. I wandered from stall to stall, eyes glazed , barely stopping anywhere, hardly seeing anything. I stayed a little over an hour, but it felt much longer than that.

I am not a good crafts fair goer. My problem is that I fantasize about the crafts people--what they must be thinking, how they must be feeling, what their lives must be like. I worry that if I stop and look, let alone handle, anything, I will get the potter/weaver/jeweler/woodworker's hopes up, only to dash them cruelly when I walk away without a purchase.

Instead of looking at the objects, I play movies in my mind of the hardscrabble life of the craftsman, who labors in the workshop all winter long and travels to shows all summer, feeding year-round on beans and rice. I think of the dreams and visions that must sustain these people--dreams of working with their hands, making an honest living, maybe attaining a measure of success. I think of them sitting on a wooden stool three days in a row, watching the crowds go by, hoping that somebody will buy their stuff.

While I project my own hangups onto the craftspeople, my fingers are itching to feel a delicate, barely pink woven scarf, try on a pair of carnelian earrings, test the "hand feel" of a wooden crochet hook. But the craftsperson is right there behind the counter, and if I linger for even a second he or she will make eye contact with me, and then I'll have to say something.

I know that craftspeople are advised that it's good for sales to stand up and make eye contact and conversation with whomever stops by their stall. That doesn't work with me. I am much more likely to browse if the seller is either out of sight or occupied with some knitting or a book.

I heard the environmentalist Bill McKibben on the radio say that people shopping at a farmers' market have an average of fifteen conversations in the process of buying their food, as opposed to just one (with the cashier) when they shop at a supermarket. McKibben cited this as one of the benefits of farmers' markets. To me, who have been damaged by a lifetime of anonymous shopping in supermarkets and department stores, it's a reason to avoid them.

I suppose I could train myself out of this. I could work to recapture the spirit of the daily errands on which as a child I accompanied my mother--to the baker, the fishwife, the vegetable seller, the seamstress, the shoe repairman, and the lady who mended stockings. I suspect that I am too goal-oriented, too driven to go into a store, buy whatever I need, and get out so I can get on with my life, whatever that is.

However, I'm beginning to suspect that life may be what happens while you're chatting with the lady who sells thirteen different kinds of potatoes, or the man who whittles crochet hooks out of wood.

P.S. I did buy, and manage to converse with the maker of, nine adorable little pottery bowls.

15 comments :

  1. The title of this post should be "An Introvert Goes Shopping" I have much the same experience at crafts shows and farmers' markets and have come to realize that despite having been thoroughly trained in the social arts by my parents I am at heart an introvert who would much prefer to float along wrapped in a cloud of poetic musings than actually talk to the people I am musing about.

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  2. So, Elizabeth, we could classify you as a closet introvert?

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  3. Elizabeth, you'll be happy to know that I managed to come out of my shell long enough to make my purchases from the Pistachio Potters, whose work I first saw at your house.

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  4. Oh, lovely. I was wondering...and look forward to seeing the charming little bowls.

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  5. I sometimes avoid art galleries for this very reason. And certain stalls at the farmer's market. The eye contact scares the hell out of me. I often cave to pressure so as to not disappoint the other...you have put all of this very well.

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  6. Indigo, boy, am I glad I'm not alone! I look at all those people who seem to be in their element, browsing, chatting, buying or not buying, and I feel really weird.

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  7. IB, but aren't you the closet extrovert?

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  8. I'm an extrovert but I'm still awkward at craft fairs--not at farmers markets (at least not ours) because i know exactly what I want, and they are SO crowded I don't feel bad for anyone. Even the beet greens get bought up. But craft shows. I have to go with someone, like a sister, someone I can chat continuously and nobody tries to interrupt. I'm a loser. But some craft shows are unjuried and anyone can set up a booth...but I'm sure not buying that toilet paper cozy with half a barbie doll body (the top half) sticking out. You know?

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  9. Ha! I *am* one of those people manning the stalls at the farmers' market. :-)

    I always try to say hello, at the very least, to the people who come by to browse because I don't want them to think I'm rude. Sometimes that strikes up a conversation, and sometimes the customer prefers to be left alone. I try to accomodate. Maybe I'll rethink that now, though, knowing it makes some people uncomfortable. Hmm..

    I wouldn't worry about hurting anyone's feelings, Lali. Vendors pretty much expect that there will be a lot of browsing with just a little buying. I probably have ten to fifteen people come by the stall for every one that buys. If you want to fondle their wares, I would go ahead. Just leave them with a compliment if you're not going to buy. Truth be told, I do feel a bit hurt sometimes by the people who browse and pick through and then leave with nary a word or even a nod in my direction. I put a lot of work and a lot of my soul into what I do and I think it's worth a smile and a "thank you," or a "hey, nice melons" at the very least. :-)

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  10. Bridgett, as you can see, you're in the majority here! I had no idea there were so many of us suffering from craft show anxiety out there.

    Joya, on behalf of all of us, thank you for your insights. And I bet I would not feel a bit uncomfortable at YOUR stall.

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  11. Joya: When I say "certain stalls," it usually has to something to do with the person who's manning it...I'll bet you make people feel quite comfortable.

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  12. Indigo, I agree. Some people have a special knack to put one at ease.

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  13. It also helps if you're a big barrel chested pork farmer with boots and a hat. And a goatee and dimples.

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