The week before the big fair I crank out fifteen new bookmarks. I’m no expert on what goes at a holiday fair but a unique bookmark is a no-brainer for this crowd. Even the majority of shoppers who pick at my books and are disappointed that there are words and pictures inside rather than being blank journals they can give their loved ones to fill with their own deep thoughts will throw $5 down for a bookmark to help curb their disappointment.
I’m an old hand at managing expectations. If nothing else, a holiday fair gets me out of the house a couple days with the possibility of coming back with less than I brought. It’s rare I can’t clear this low bar.
The last winter Renegade Craft Fair I did was six or seven years ago. It was at the Bridgeport Art Center which was very convenient for me and I made a bunch of money but swore I’d never do it again. There’s a unique emotional/life-force toll exacted by these events. You’re not doing much more than smiling at people for six or seven hours but afterwards you feel like you’d gotten run over by a truck that backed up and did it again to make sure there was no spirit left inside.
For an outgoing person, a performer, the chance to shill one’s wares might be an opportunity to show off or riff; to an inward, shy person it’s more like getting the outer layer of skin peeled slowly and methodically by a thousand amateur line cooks. They have no idea what they’re doing and they mean well but do untold damage.
I know well these are luxury complaints. Nevertheless, I always dream/speculate that there’s some other way. I read books about artists and writers having agents and staff to handle all the public-facing grunt work I take as my responsibility as a matter of course. I remember, for instance, the one and only time a gallery sent a freight company to my house to pick up artwork for a show. It was such a champagne-and-caviar moment. That was eight years ago. I’ve packed and shipped every picture and book since then myself.
Renegade’s in the West Loop this year. Makes sense. A lot of disposable income in that neighborhood. I don’t know that you can buy anything at Renegade you actually need. Certainly not off my table. I need to make these things but when someone likes one and gives me money to take it home, it’s sort of icing on the cake. I wonder whether any vendors here feel they’re performing an essential service?
I have to ask Suzy sometime why she called her craft fair Renegade. What was it an uprising against? Brick-and-mortar stores? Factories? I wonder.
Across from me is a line of couples waiting to get their portraits drawn. I wonder aloud to me neighbor about who will get the drawing after they break up. Will they cut it into halves or will one just rip off their ex’s image and chuck it in the trash or burn it? My neighbor laughs at my gallows humor. He hasn’t sold much so I’m happy to cheer him up, even through darkness.
My other neighbor’s doing bang-up business. She drove here with her sister from New Jersey. She makes t-shirts and sweatshirts with color swatches that merge into gradient designs when they’re washed. People can’t get enough. We commiserate over how draining it is to smile for so long at so many people.
I get coffee at a booth manned by a very young person. When I give her a twenty she gets flustered making change, almost handing me a fifty by mistake. I try to make light of this but only wind up making her more nervous. Her hands are trembling as I walk away.
Packing up to leave I tell myself it was worth it since I’m taking back less than I brought. After hauling the folding table and suitcase up to the Green Line, then waiting on the platform for 20 minutes for an Orange Line train delayed by mechanical trouble, then walking down to State Street and waiting a half hour for the Archer bus, I start having second thoughts.
Maybe I’ll retire from fair life for a time.
—A few recent raves.
—Made you another playlist.
—Buy one of my drawings to help Clinard Dance keep dancing.