Yesterday I spent the day at a flea market. I did not go into it thinking the purpose was to survive a social experiment. I thought the point was to rent a table and fill it with handmade cards in a venue where hundreds of people walk by. I thought it would be a relatively painless maybe even fun way to showcase my stuff and see what might happen. Hopefully I’d earn back the rent on the table, and maybe even make a little gas money. If I did really well, it would cover my art supplies. Humble aspirations. I admit, at one point I allowed myself a secret fantasy: I would sell it all. Every last piece. Evenings for the past few months have been filled with card-making. I was armed with a healthy inventory.
It took me exactly two trips to unload my baskets and things. Stepping carefully around the queue of 16 passenger vans stuffed to the ceiling, I was set up and ready for my first customer in less than 10 minutes. I had thoughtfully selected attractive coverings for the 7 x 3 table and borrowed one of those cool spinning display pieces to complement the wooden bowls and baskets that were filled with cards. I walked around the table, stepped back and checked out my work. It looked good. Simple, clean, professional. I had been to the bank the day before to change out some 20s for singles so I could make change. My pocket bulged with a fat roll of $1 bills. I was ready.
Across from me was Moe. Every inch of his table was filled. He had plastic toy motorcycles, knives, lunch boxes, an M&M dispenser, plastic swords, cameras, kitchenware, and mountains of boxes under his table that hadn’t been unpacked yet. Hundreds of other “Moe”s were unpacking their stuff and preparing their tables. The room reeked of musty basement thrift shop yard sale. Cast iron parts to wood stoves. Equine hardware. Baskets. Tea cups. Leopard printed tops. Baseball cards. Neon nylon handmade bracelets. Framed pictures. Posters of Tom Cruise. Cheap replica not quite retro action figures. Trolls.
I was definitely getting that we’re not in Kansas anymore feeling. I undoubtedly had too much coffee on an empty stomach and could feel my heart beginning to race. What the hell was I doing here? What made me think I could be trapped inside a building, smiling and making pleasantries with several hundred people all day long? It was getting more and more difficult to take a deep breath. I did not have any Rescue Remedy with me — my go-to (perhaps placebo but who cares because it works) solution to an impending panic attack. I had to fight this one off with sheer will. I was about 15 steps from an exit. I knew I could abandon ship and just walk out and get some deep breaths of fresh air if I had to. The doors opened and the already full room became sardine can packed within a matter of minutes. Somehow I powered through.
People ambled by, mostly not looking at me or my table. I got a few nice compliments, but no sales. One guy furrowed his brow and asked me what this stuff was. I told him cards. He stared blankly at me for a moment, and asked what’s it for? I told him for writing notes and sending to people. He shook his head and grunted. I watched a dozen people glance at my stuff, then quickly turn their attention to Moe’s table. He sold an entire box of plastic trolls to a family who barely even wanted to buy one troll in the first place. Moe knew what he was doing. I watched his folded over wad of cash grow and grow. I was in trouble. No way could my sweet little hand-made cards compete with the plastic Tasmanian Devil lunchbox. People had NO. IDEA. what to make of me or my art. It was going to be a long day.
Standing there with a weird fake smile pasted on my face, I listened to the endless back and forth going on in my head: This is so embarrassing. What am I doing here. No one wants my stuff. What the hell was I thinking. I am a loser. No you’re not! You’re putting yourself out there! You took a risk! Your stuff is cool! You got this! My inner cheerleader is annoying, but you’ve got to hand it to her — she really hangs in there.
Three hours and ten minutes later, my first — and as it would turn out, my only — buyer approached my table. She passed by the $1 and $2 items and went straight for the $4 cards. She picked through the basket, spun the spinny thing, picked out two cards, gave me her $8 and was gone in less than a minute having said exactly no words. What the hell had just happened? I did a small victory dance in my head and my fake smile became a little more real.
At the end of the day, one could make a strong case for the outing having been a complete and utter disastrous failure. It was a colossal waste of time. I stood around inside on a gorgeous sunny day, getting nothing done. I spent more money than I made, by a long shot. Got zero exercise. And yet, surprisingly, as I was packing up and heading home I was actually feeling pretty good. You know that feeling when you’re walking down the street and you’re having a good day, feeling some confidence, maybe just a hint of swagger in your step? I had that. I had fought off a panic attack. I got rejected all day long. I talked to strangers — a lot of them. I tried a thing and it did not really go very well and I survived it. The day was actually not a full face plant. My inner cheerleader is giving herself a big old high-five now.