Sunday, August 28, 2011

six-month check in!

So, around the middle of march, just before SXSW got going, I left the old bartending job and started peddling jewelry full time. I was standing behind the bar doing the usual, keeping an eye on the drunks, mopping up a constant stream of spilled libations and brooding on the upcoming increase of my already less-than-desirable work hours. For those who don't know, SXSW stands for South by Southwest, a major music festival that takes place in Austin every year. Bands are spread out in venues across the city over the course of a week, and thousands of festival goers swarm across the city for those seven days. Meaning, of course, those in the bar/restaurant business can count of a straight week of 10, 12, even 14 and 16 hour shifts.

What can I say? I broke. I couldn't get over the feeling that I was becoming trapped in the bar business. I was having visions of myself as an overly-made up 40 something with glitter on my eyelids and droopily exposed cleavage still surrounded by drunk frat boys and bachelorette parties. I broke. I left my shift after completing my cleaning duties, and I didn't show up the next day. I just didn't go. It was completely unprofessional and unlike me- I've always given notice, always tried to stay on good terms with ex-employers, but just this one time, I decided to do something uncharacteristic and selfish. It was the best thing I ever did. Sure, I panicked a little when it really set in that I was on my own, but then slowly I started to realize that I was able to think about what the next day would bring without a sinking feeling of despair. I was able to go to sleep the night before a market day without having stress dreams about endless seas of tables and dirty glasses to be taken care of.

So, for the last six months, my little Honda and I make our way down to 23rd and Guadalupe, where I set up my booth and try to make ends meet. They do meet, just barely- the summer has been rough. Most of the students go home, and it's just too stupid hot for most people to be outside. (Anything over 105 is technically known to us scientific types and 'stupid hot'.) I go without coffee shop stops now for the most part, except as a special treat. I haven't bought new (used) clothes in months, and I can't even remember the last time I bought clothes that had never been owned by anyone before. I mostly eat rice or peanut butter and jellys, but I can't give up my wheat thins and laughing cow cheese. And I'm happier than I ever was when I had money to spare. What little money I do have mostly goes towards new supplies, and I love this too. Shopping for beads and findings is just as exciting for me as clothes shopping- it still gives me that spending giddiness that most ladies are acquainted with. If the time comes when I don't find delight in ripping open a new package of chain and metal and glass, it's time for me to move on.

The money's not the only negative. The sweltering heat quickly reduces me to a lethargic, sweat- and dirt-encased excuse for a human. The homeless that prowl the streets of Austin can be frustrating, smelly, and occasionally frightening. Some days, I set up and sit out there for hours, and I don't sell anything. Sometimes my booth and my work seem to be invisible, and it can be incredibly discouraging. Then there are the days when I more than my weekly goal in just a few hours. There are times when someone spots a necklace or pair of earrings on my table, and their eyes light up, and they wrap their fingers around that piece and I know it was just waiting for them to come along. Watching people feel pretty is nice, regardless of the grammatical wrongness of  that phrase! These are the days that make the sweat and frustration worth it.

 People are constantly asking me if I have a business degree, or am planning on getting one. I could be wrong, but I feel like a lot of 'business sense' comes from common sense, good observation skills, and some understanding of psychology. So no, I don't plan on paying thousands for a piece of paper that says I know about business. The fact that I'm 25 with no real ownership experience, and making this work in a crappy economy, that's my diploma. The fact that I've looked at my client base and figured out how to change my approach to suit the whimsy of college-age shoppers, that's my approving piece of paper.

In March when I decided to do this full time, I wanted to give myself a year to make it, and that's still the plan. Six months to go. Next March, maybe I'll reconsider. Maybe I'll decide that this market isn't meant to be my venue. I'd love to go out occasionally, but I can't see myself doing this market for years and years, especially if the economy doesn't turn around soon. Even if I don't end up in this field, I have shown myself that I can make it.