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…