Thursday, April 5, 2018

A loner but not alone

"Do you ever reach out with arms open wide
Do you ever jump in closing your eyes
Or are you one of the fortunate kind
Alone but not lonely."

Don't be shocked.

I've had a little uptick in sales since I started selling pairs in smaller sets. A single pair with a pair of spacers, or two pairs instead of my typical three pairs to a set.

It's more work that way, so I've notched my prices up a tick too.

And it seems people will pay $14 or $16 for a pair of pairs more readily than $18 for a trio of pairs.

I know it's not just a math problem. It's not a bargain to get more pairs at a lower unit price if you don't like or don't have a use for all of them.

So for now, I'm stringing and restringing pairs in twos. And I'd like to get my prices up yet more. A pair and a spare for $20 would be a nice niche.

I don't think $5 per bead is too much for my pair beads. But I'll stick with what's working for now, for a while. If it keeps working.

I've gotten some really nice feedback lately too. Here is one example.
Elizabeth, My package arrived today. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I opened the package and saw the gorgeous beads that I purchased from you. They are so special and even prettier in person than in the pictures. I cannot wait to create some magic with them. Thank you for letting me purchase these and I will be purchasing more soon.
Lest my ego start to swell, on the same day I had this conversation with another customer, who had recently purchased or won seven sets of pairs. Since I had mailed her beads, she had bought or bid on five more sets.
OMGoodness!!! I am going to have to stop following you. Well at least until I receive my first order. I am going to go broke. LOVE THESE [photo] but trying to let someone else have some!!!
I checked the tracking information on her first order, which showed it had been delivered literally less than an hour earlier. I said
Thank you and good news. "Your item was delivered in or at the mailbox at 9:23 am on March 28, 2018 in CHICAGO, IL 60628."

I think you will love them. You picked some of my favorite styles.
She said
Wow... did not hear mail person. Going to check box. Thanks!!!
Then, nothing. Not another word.

That is until the last auction she'd bid on ended and I sent her an invoice. The she said
I show 4 (one BIN and 3 bids) but you invoiced for 5. Can you double check.
I sent her a group shot of the five sets.

And heard nothing further.

So reading between the lines, I'm thinking she wasn't all that thrilled with the beads. I'm curious but reluctant to ask.

Eventually, I sent a payment reminder through PayPal, and 12 hours after that, this message.
Hi K...... - hope everything is OK. You haven't paid for your beads. Hope all is well.
My message was seen within 10 minutes, but did not provoke any response. However, I did receive a payment by the following morning.

I mailed the beads off with a nice focal as a bonus bead. Somehow I don't expect to hear from this buyer again. I'll be sure to let you know if I'm mistaken.

I'll admit that despite the fact that I've rarely gotten anything but glowing feedback, I'm bummed.

Other things have got me down. Or maybe I just feel down and I'm grasping at explanations.

There's a bead retreat in Asheville every year about this time. There were still spaces when I checked a few weeks ago. The retreat itself is relatively low cost. It is essentially two full days of torching, with demos, some meals, and some fun activities like a raffle and a bead swap. Of course there is also the cost of lodging for three nights, some meals and gasoline, since I would drive..

When I mentioned it to Neil, his offhand comment was, that will be a one thousand dollar weekend. After he said it he felt badly, because he would spend that much easily and happily on a softball weekend or a coin weekend. But I'm in no-spending mode, and it was the perfect excuse not to go.

There are other reasons I didn't go besides the money. They are the same reasons I never went to Bead Camp and opted not to go to the annual lampwork conference again.

And it all harkens back to high school, when I was not popular, not in with the in crowd or with any crowd really. I had low self-esteem and lacked confidence and suffered from paralyzing self-consciousness. I was no one's best friend, I didn't have a best friend. While I won't say I had no friends, I was never secure in my friendships. I remember spending lunch breaks in the library, with a packet of Chuckles from the vending machine, because I didn't have anyone to sit with at lunch.

You can comb my high school yearbook, as I have done, and you won't find any photos of me other than the paid formal one. Of course, I didn't submit any photos, probably because I had no cute casual shots of me hanging out with best buds.

More than 40 years later, this still hurts me when I think about it. Do we ever get over our high school experience? Or does our high school self linger, with all her doubts and fears and heartaches and self-protective armor.

Oh, I'm sure some do, and go on to be well-liked, charismatic, successful people with lots of friends and plenty of self-assurance and unabashed spontaneity. High school is history and stays there.

I remember going off to college, determined that things would be different. I'd become friends with everyone, especially the right people, and my past would be left behind.

I don't think I've ever seen myself as others see me. For example, it surprises me when people tell me that I am quiet. I feel like I talk a lot, too much even, including not always saying the right things, speaking without thinking first.

So I went to college and made a concerted effort to speak to everyone in my dorm, to learn their names and shoot the bull with them. Not long after we all moved in, an election was held for a freshman representative from our dorm on some student housing committee. I put my name in the hat, along with two others.

We went into another room while the vote was held. A few minutes later, someone came and got me. My vote was needed to break a tie between the two others. Not only did I lose, I very publicly came in last.

I declined to break the tie (because the loser would know I had voted for the winner, I said). Then I went to my room and cried in the closet because college was just going to be high school all over again. My roommate came and tried to cheer me. It's not you, she said, you just don't play the game well, you are too quiet. And I thought I had been doing my utmost to play the game, trying to meet and talk to everyone.

College in the long run was not entirely a repeat of high school. I did make friends, real friends, a best friend. But there were hurts too. I still felt inadequate, like I wasn't a fully-fledged person, not quite good enough to count.

In the years between then and now, there've been ups and downs, highs and lows. I had friends, some good friends, but I never had another best friend, and I am not good at sustaining relationships with women. Friends come and go, which is not all on my, but there is a pattern that makes me think it is more on me than the other way around.

I don't know why. Is there something wrong with me? What is wrong with me?

And yes, I know that is toxic thinking and self-sabotaging thinking.

But this particular story isn't about individual friendships or close friendships really. It's about how I fear and avoid group situations where I have the potential to be that high school Liz again, the one who doesn't have a posse, the one who doesn't know if she will be included in a group going out to dinner or eating vending machine snacks in her room.

I did push through all that for a while. When I first started lampworking, I was so eager to be with others who shared the passion. I drove to Austin by myself, stayed at a B&B, took a two-day master class when I had less than four months of experience at the torch. I joined the local chapter of the ISGB and eventually served as Secretary and later as Treasurer. I went to every monthly meeting and made some friends, even had some play dates.

For a while I was part of a spin-off group, doing trunk shows and bead shows together. There were four of us and we called ourselves the Texas Hot Flashes. We also got together socially, taking turns hosting a Hot Flash Bash. I'm the only one of us still making beads. I stay in touch on Facebook, but not actively.

I've been to three ISGB annual conferences (known as the Gathering). The first was in Miami in 2009, and I even won a scholarship. Neil came with me and his dad joined us too. I remember one of the other attendees voicing shock. You brought your husband, she said. I guess for her it was a time to cut loose, drink a lot and have party with the other bead ladies. I attended all the meetings and presentations, open torch, the live auction, etc. But I ate meals with Neil and Dad Bob.

In 2011, I went to the Gathering in Seattle. Neil came along too. We'd always wanted to take the Amtrak Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago via Glacier National Park, so this was a crime of opportunity. Again, I attended the planned events but ate dinners with Neil. By then I knew a few people from classes and from online interaction, but I still felt self-conscious and uncertain asking to join a social group for lunch, for example. There is always a lot of talk about how friendly and welcoming everyone is at the Gathering, but I never found it so.

The best time I had at a Gathering was the last one I went to, in Houston. A lot of the local chapter members, now my good friends, attended. It was the first time I had a posse of my own, the first time I always knew who I'd eat lunch with. I actually felt a bit guilty for not trying harder to make new friends, and I did make a conscious effort to interact with people who seemed to be alone and a bit lost. But it was wonderful to sit in the lobby with a group of people who I felt very comfortable with during breaks. It made all the difference.

Still, I doubt I'll ever go to another Gathering. It's expensive for one thing. For the last two years and for the foreseeable future, Las Vegas is now the permanent location. For economic reasons, it is now paired with the much larger Glass Craft Expo. If I go again, it would only be to have a booth at the expo. And I'd only do that if I had a buddy to share the space with.

There are a lot of things I'd have done or would do if I had a buddy. I would have gone to Bead Camp. I might have gone to the big bead shows in Tucson and in Wisconsin. I'd definitely be in Asheville right now. And the thing is, I know if I went alone, it might be hard walking in that first day, but I'd almost definitely get past the discomfort and have fun. I'm quite sure I'd have a good time in the long run.

But mobilizing to go, there's the rub. It gives me so much anxiety that I talk myself out of it. I say it costs too much, I tell myself (and this is true) that there are plenty of bead makers out there who never go to a single class or group event and are perfectly happy to just work on their craft.

I'm not alone at being a loner.

It's not hopeless though. High school doesn't have to be forever. I've put my name down for the next retreat in Asheville, in the fall, and I'm determined to go.

What's the worst that could happen? If I don't have a great time, well, it's just a weekend. There'll be another one.

I haven't a reason, a clue or a sign
I haven't the slightest idea
Of the shape of your heart or the state of your mind
Do you ever let anyone near
Do you ever reach out with arms open wide
Do you ever jump in closing your eyes
Or are you one of the fortunate kind
Alone but not lonely

Every day on the street I study their faces
The ones who rush on through the crowd
Towards their own quiet worlds, their separate places
Somewhere I'm never allowed
'Cause I've always been one to say what I need
And then the next thing it's done and I'm watching 'em leave
And I'm thinking, I wish I could be
Alone but not lonely

So which one are you tonight
Do you change with the morning light
Do you say more than what sounds right
Do you say what you mean?

There are moments in time that are meant to be held
Like fragile, breakable things
There are others that pass us, you can't even tell
Such is their grace and their speed
And this one is gone in the blink of an eye
You can ask me the truth but tonight I will lie
Unflinching I'll tell you that I'm alone but not lonely.

(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz