Realization…

Okay. It’s time to admit something, to state something publicly that I have at last admitted to myself: this is not a business. Or rather, it is a business, but not a full-time one. Or, more accurately it is a full-time business if I really, really want to make it happen, but one that just does not justify the hours, effort, and investment that costs. Or to put it entirely bluntly, I can no longer justify doing this full-time.

As you might have guessed from my convoluted entry into this admission this is a hard thing for me to say, but hard things are so often true. I have been trying to change some things that I hoped might reset the proverbial board, but none of these has come to fruition, so it is time to address reality rather than what I hope might be.

I would love to say that I have come to this realization in response to the arrival of Baby Rabbit, that I am choosing to change my priorities in order to devote more time to him, but that would be a lie. Certainly Rabbit and Bee and K all play into things, but the need for this admission comes from much more basic reasons. Having completed the tallies for 2012, added up all the income and subtracted all the expenses associated with the business I seem to have netted slightly over nine thousand dollars. That number covers three fabric collections, the first installment of my book advance, and a bunch of magazine work; the expenses are strictly those that stem from supporting the business and in no way involve any contribution to the household budget. That is the reality of this thing that I have been calling a business.

Now, I know I am supposed to be doing this for the love of art, because that is its own intrinsic reward. To be blunt I have always thought that notion of the artist is simply insulting. This is a job and a career; it is hard work and takes an incredible amount of skill, knowledge, training, and experience. It also just takes a remarkable amount of labor to do well, and that labor takes time. That, in so many ways, is the biggest investment and it comes at a price since it is not an infinite resource.

I would love to say that I am simply setting new priorities, reorienting my life, but that just isn’t the case. Yes, these changes are going to involve some serious reorientation, but this is not really by choice. I simply cannot justify the time all of this takes away from my family, from supporting K’s actual career, from caring for our children rather than paying for daycare. I cannot justify the adverse effects on my health that the constant pushing, pushing, pushing has. At least I cannot justify it for $4.50/hour at best. To ignore these truths is likely nothing more than egotistical, a willful ignorance, and it hurts my family.

Perhaps I am not as good at this as I thought I was. Perhaps what I have to offer just isn’t salable. Perhaps the market isn’t there, and maybe it never will be. Maybe some day it will, but I have to confront the reality of now; there is only so long one can sustain ambition in the face of the material consequences. I have spent the last two and a half years working on building this business, and the net income over that full period is something approximating zero, and that simply is not a business. It may be a practice, it may be a sideline, a part-time something, a series of projects, or any number of other things. It may be rewarding, or important, or in some small way significant, but it is not a business. Or if it is a business, it is a failure as one.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as some of my more frequent readers have doubtless noticed. I have indeed been trying to do anything and everything to change the material circumstances of the situation, to alter whatever I can to point towards a better trajectory, but I can no longer see anything I can do that will make things significantly different any time in the foreseeable future. So, I have to change the only thing that left to me: the business.

From now on this is going to have to be a side project, one that accompanies my life when time allows. All of the other things need to come first instead of the other way around. Hell, the business would likely be a whole lot more profitable if I simply cut away all of the investments; even if my income were halved I’d probably end up with more. Based on the numbers I can justify a couple of hours a day averaged out over a week, but that is about it; more than that and it just costs too much, because time is expensive in this life.

So what does this mean? Well, I’m not entirely sure. I hope to keep making fabric when I can, but that depends more on the amount of support I receive going forward from so many directions. If the fabric were doing better all of this might not be happening, but the numbers just don’t justify the labor involved in being an army of me when it comes to getting it out there. Much of that problem may be entirely mine; the designs just might not be that good. I like them, obviously, but I am not the market. Whatever the reason, the numbers just don’t add up in a way that makes sense of all of the time and effort that surrounds that designing. I hope to keep doing it, but we shall see. I am just the designer; so much of this isn’t up to me.

I will definitely continue writing for as long as publishers want to give me the opportunity. Though this entire venture I may well find the words to be the most rewarding aspect of my practice; the insights and observations afforded me by thinking about and writing about quilts have been extraordinary. Unfortunately words just don’t pay; I am not sure there is much of an economic marketplace for ideas at the moment. While I would love to teach more, and find a way to further supplement the business by doing so, the economy of ideas does not make a lot of sense for most business in a field driven by tangible things, the sale of physical stuff. At least that is what I tell myself when I try to make myself feel better, but that may just be a bit of ego stroking; there may well just not be that many people who are interested.

That’s the thing: I may never quite know why things aren’t progressing, but they just aren’t. And in the end, reality always wins. I have been enormously grateful for the sentiments shared with me following my last few posts, and am heartened to hear that I have inspired some, encouraged some, and pushed some to rethink and grow. I love that, but all of that takes time, effort, and work, things that the numbers just don’t justify. If satisfaction helped pay for childcare, or medical bills, or food, or college tuition I would be doing great, but it doesn’t. In the end this has to make sense; the columns have to add up in a way that doesn’t make the anthropomorphic ledger-sheet cry.

So, I hope to do more fabric, I hope to write more articles and columns, I hope to write more and more books. Maybe someday I’ll design fabric that sells well enough that making fourteen cents a yard will allow me to put in all of the extra work. Perhaps some day I’ll write a book that will sell and sell and sell; I still have hopes for this first book, but then those are just hopes. Possibly some combination of those activities will change things. I hope a lot of things will happen, but I can no longer survive on hope. If the day comes when things really are different, I reach another plateau, then I may come back to doing this full-time. Until then it will be what I do this in-between, after everything else is taken care of.

I will keep writing here, sharing thoughts and designs, but when I have time; all that unpaid effort and activity just doesn’t pay, especially when it seems to only be seen by that same handful of people. Perhaps this would all work better if I tried to sell patterns, or stuff, or whatever—another ruler or tool or trick—but I just don’t care about those things. I care about the big stuff, the metaphysical matters, but that just doesn’t seem to be good business. Or, once again, I may just not be that good at the big stuff. But, when it comes right down to it the why just doesn’t matter in this case; the what is all to compelling. For the business to survive it has to shrink, and I just have to admit that truth, accept that realization.

Now to see what this new future brings. I will keep hoping something will happen to make things different, but in the meantime I shall do what I can. And of course for a little while I’ll just have to grieve; I had such high hopes. Damn you reality…

-t

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18 Responses to Realization…

  1. 1
    Teresa says:

    Reality bites. But know that the lack of profit has less to do with you than any other factor. It seems to be how this market works, unfortunately.

    I call bullshit on the mantra: “Do what you love and the money will follow.

  2. 2

    Boo sucks! I just left a comment on last nights post.

    I’ve seen this coming as you’ve become pretty disenchanted with the whole process this year and it makes me personally, really sad if you stop completely. You have so much to offer but now is the time to concentrate on your health and your family life. You seriously need to rest and recharge to get some sort of balance back with the HKPP. I know the whole rest thing is boring but it is worthwhile. Time to heal and then take stock.

    Hugs from me

    Rosanne

  3. 3
    Brenda Gael Smith says:

    Sometimes things just don’t add up…

  4. 4
  5. 5

    Thoughts and good vibes and prayers for you and your family. Take a break and maybe put your dreams on the backburner for a while and then trust and have faith that things will turn around for you

  6. 6
    Emily says:

    🙁 If it helps, I’m not much of a businessperson either. I find the process of trying to sell myself to companies etc pretty dull. I hope you’ll take this change and find a way to let your heart be ok with it. I don’t think it needs to be said, but I hope you keep creating. I hope that creating becomes something, although I think your educated mind knows that as a hobby sometimes just the act of creating is enough for it to be worthwhile.

  7. 7

    Reality sucks. Finding that middle ground between what we want to do and what we need to do is hard work. Hugs.

  8. 8
    Sandy says:

    I can’t say I have followed for ever, I’m pretty new to your site, and, I love it. I hate seeing someone’s dreams go down the drain, it sucks. I do understand where you are coming from, your story could be mine. Your last two posts, I would swear I wrote them. I had my own business and I put everything into it. It was amazing while it lasted, 4 years. Then my cancer came back for the 2nd time, business on hold. Beat it and worked at it for another 2 years, and, yes, the big C came back. Beat it again…..Yeah. Sadly, business had to go. Like you, more money, time, and, effort out, not enough money coming in. I know I was the best at what I did, still am, but, again, money talks. Please don’t let this bump in the road get you down, I know that’s easier said than done, but, what you do is important. I just want to thank you for sharing these last two posts. The words you wrote, the feelings you shared, could have been mine.

  9. 9
    Mary Ann says:

    I am not surprised but I don’t know what to say…I have learned so much from you and hope that goes on. Your family and health that’s what is important.

  10. 10

    dangit. since I haven’t invented the newest pet rock, I simplify my life a lot and live on a bare bones budget. your angst is the sound of a new season coming. Your name is already out there; we are waiting with anticipation for your new direction. the eternal question is, what do other people want to pay for? ideas, products, motivation? what would Bee like you to buy? a book on sewing with your child? go write it.

  11. 11
    Lisa Lisa says:

    I was just talking about your blog yesterday (your “go make shit” post) at our newly formed modern quilt guild. I hope that you’ll be able to continue doing what you love, and that this is just a bump in the road.

  12. 12
    Maggie Magee says:

    Know how hard it is to get a business going, or even maintaining one–been there. When you have a family, they must come first. Don’t give up entirely–this world needs you, your words, your talent! Art is hard–it’s got to be one of the most frustrating professions on earth. The joy is in the making, and let us hope that more recognition from out there follows. Let us hope that this is just a bit of things getting worse before they get better. We are all with you, Thomas!
    Maggie

  13. 13

    You are facing the harsh reality everyone in this game faces. I’ve been likening your struggles to those of us who are mothers working to make this go too. The push pull of time and effort. And no one does just one thing to make a living here.
    I will say that teaching/speaking is becoming a big source of the income for me. And writing when you don’t need to produce a pattern/quilt is an efficient use of time.
    Don’t give up. These are hard days, but not the end of days.

  14. 14
    Casey says:

    I’m so sorry, Thomas. I’m not sure what else, if anything, I can say. I do want to thank you for your honesty about the realities of working in this business. You address topics that are uncomfortable for many people to talk about, but in doing so you provide a more well-rounded perspective on the fabric and crafting business and that is an enormous resource.

    I’m glad to see from your posts today that you remain engaged and active in creating–I can’t wait to see what new things you come up with! Very best wishes to you and your family. -C

  15. 15
    Andrea says:

    Hi Thomas, I share in your frustration, disappointment, disheartenment and other appropriate adjectives. I truly appreciate your honesty in letting us know how much/little you make doing this, as I think some of us look at people like you and think you have “made-it big time” when the reality is that even with the success and visibility you have experienced, you are still unable to make a living from what you do. After 3 years of running my own business,making children’s clothes I came to the realization that there just don’t seem to be enough people out there who are willing/able to pay a fair price for what we do. You have touched upon some of this in your discussion of the “cracker-barrel” quilt, where people are willing to pay for the illusion of handmade, as long as they can get it cheaply. I don’t know what the solution is, I have pretty much given up trying to engage in a discussion of this with my peers, my only hope is that by exposing our children to our work, we will create a future where people start to value the hand-made again, and who knows, maybe your kids and mine may be able to make a living from it.

  16. 16
    ldpaulson says:

    >> Unfortunately words just don’t pay; I am not sure there is much of an economic marketplace for ideas at the moment.

    Sad to say, words haven’t paid much since I started assembling them as a career. As a freelance writer/editor, I completely empathize with where you find yourself now, Thomas. Trust me: you can come back to fabric design when and if the time seems right. I do hope you’ll continue creating for magazines. Selfish of me, but I love seeing your latest quilts … guess I could simply be satisfied with reading this blog and seeing the pretty pictures here, un-mediated.

    And when you’re ready to write that book, you know who would be in the trenches with you as an editor/proofreader/cheerleader?? ME! Seriously. I still say — to borrow from you — “YAY WORDS!”

    Respectfully,

    ldp

  17. 17
    Karen Burns says:

    Hi Thomas,
    I am sorry that things haven’t worked out the way you had hoped…It does truly suck. I so admire your drive, enthusiasm and creative aptitude. I know you will be missed, but I also know that we will ALWAYS look forward to seeing what you do come out with…whether it be fabric, books, patterns, or a whole new career.
    I send you good wishes, and look forward to seeing you soon.

  18. 18
    Michelle says:

    I’m sorry. I’ve just found your blog post-QC and want to thank you for your honesty and perspective.

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