In November of 2012, I did my very first show at the Indiana State Museum, where family and friends turned out in shifts to show their support – like these nice guys right here.
While other nice guys and I were chatting, a tall, slender 50-something brunette in a floor-length cardigan glided up to my booth, glanced imperiously over my wares, and glided away again. Amidst all the people fluttering about, I noticed her coming and going because it was essentially impossible not to. She moved like Darth Vader in a sea of scruffy, nerfherding Storm Troopers. When she returned several minutes later with a friend, I was psyched, because she was either going to choke me to death from four feet away, or she was going buy something. Sadly, what she wanted had already been purchased. “Oh well,” Darth Cardigan said dismissively. “Too bad. It was just about the only thing here that didn’t have its tongue firmly in its cheek!” And away she went, leaving me feeling extra small and awkward, as if I’d tried to dance for Jabba in a bikini made of whoopee cushions and shiny, plastic poop.
I wish I could say that I had overcome that offhand comment of hers, but it’s stayed with me, working at me, bothering me. I hate the implication of her comment: That works with a sense of humor aren’t “real,” aren’t “worthy,” don’t matter. Humor, candidly, is kind of my deal. Without humor, I’m not sure I could create, or for that matter, that I would want to.
I spent most of my professional life teaching, first at Boston University, and then at a national corporation. During that time, I also cracked a lot of jokes, because jokes keep people awake, keep them listening, keep them engaged. Now that I work at home, alone, I have gained much, but I have also lost my connection to that live audience. In a weird way, the cash register has become the connection. If it rings, someone gets it. Someone laughs. I’ve connected. If the register doesn’t ring, I start to panic – but it’s not the money. It’s Adam touching God, or E.T. touching Elliot. It’s the connection.
Last week, for example, I crocheted a Lizzie Borden stuffie, which is hilarious to me. I’ve been fascinated with Lizzie Borden since I was 11 years old, and I thought surely, surely a fun and sinister little Lizzie would be amazing:
A whole day went by, and no one bought the pattern – and yes, I know, one day. What’s a day? Pfft! It’s nothing! Except that it’s EVERYTHING! In my head, a day is an epoch, an era, a geologic eternity in which dinosaurs roam, meet, mate, and die out. Was I nuts? Was a Lizzie Borden stuffie not only not funny, but also not a good idea? Had I inadvertently crocheted something trite and terrible?
Darth Cardigan, see, she’s in my head now, sitting in the corner of the comedy club in my mind with her arms crossed, rolling her eyes. Lizzie Borden. Please. After the first Lizzie pattern sold, she left the room – but only to pee and blow up Alderaan, and then she came right back to mess with me some more.
Take this book:
To me, this book is pretty much the height of everything. As a kid, television was not forbidden to me, but it was clearly presented as the ignoble choice, the juvenile delinquent, the unfortunate risk of giving a child free will. Books, meanwhile, were solid citizens and knights unblemished, the right choice, the thing all decent people prefer. To think of mighty books colliding with lowly television, well, let’s just say that when I saw this Hawaii Five-O book at a local flea market, I didn’t choose to buy it; it jumped into my arms like a puppy at a shelter. Its irreverence made me giddy, and I wanted to build an organizer around it, kind of like this:
To date, however, I have picked up and put down Hawaii Five-O at least 239.4 different times. I’ve purchased other books to go with it, but I can’t commit. It’s Darth Cardigan, assuring me that Hawaii Five-O is not funny and not worthy, that no one will get it, that I won’t connect.
I know it’s up to me to kick her out of the club. I know she only has the power I give her, which means I have to stop giving to her. But dude. That’s hard.
I don’t know why I haven’t managed to retain the 231 kind and thoughtful comments that I received that day at the Indiana State Museum from family and friends and strangers. I don’t know why it’s easier to accept one offhand insult from a snotty woman and stew on it. I also don’t know why I doubted my Lizzie Borden, who is pretty darn awesome. These are the mysteries and the perils of selling art.
May the Force be with all of us who attempt it.
May Darth Cardigan most decidedly not.