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.