Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I google ‘how to get out of your own way’ but instead find myself clicking one of the autofill responses: ‘How to get out of your own bear trap in ARK,’ which appears to be a common conundrum in what I assume is an online survival game. I play my own survival game everyday so I browse back to the topic of concern; The epidemic of the existential crisis as it infects small creative businesses.

I have spoken endlessly to students and colleagues about the dangers of turning your hobby or art practice into a business. I have experienced the profound sense of loss myself as what began as an absolute romance with flowers morphed into business that removed the euphoria of the practice from every corner of my waking life. Then I moved to growing flowers, to farming and tinkering in the garden and fell in love with that process only to have the farm co-opted into a full fledged business operation. It has been as if business lurks around every corner of my creative practice waiting to consume it. If you’re a friend of saipua and are willing to allow me my dramatic assessment, I’ll continue…

I did an unusual thing for myself this winter and essentially worked ‘off the farm.’ I strung together a great interim stint at Fox Fodder Farm and also some floral technical work for TV (the Showtime production of Three Women). The extra money provided some financial relief and the distance from my own project gave me a lot of perspective. Recently a friend told me she feels she’s a better mother because she leaves her children for a large part of the day to do her work. I’ve always thought there’s a corollary between business/farm owning and parenting.

This time away, and also this extra cash flow helped me relax a little.To see more clearly some of my own personal desires, separate from Saipua. For example, my desire to own a vintage jaguar or to have more leisure time for reading and writing. My persona and the culture of saipua has always centered on hustle and hardship which I have equated with authenticity. A friend visited last summer for a while and said ‘everything you sell, every single thing is hand touched by you, your mother or someone who lives here.’ Which sounds so lovely when I repeat it - but because Laurie Ellen cares deeply for me and my family - she was conveying a sense of incredulousness and horror: My mother was working 10 hour days in the soap factory and I was feeling like a washed up drunken old cabaret dancer, a cigarette dangling from my lips while I shook it over here and over there, teaching flower arranging for money.

Capitalism eats everything; it eats into our families, into our caregiving, our ways of knowing our own bodies and health, into our leisure, into our loving. It is also - so thoroughly - all we know, so deeply embedded at the cellular level; its metastasized, unable to be fully eradicated. (I grew up in a shopping mall, it was my first experience of desire and pleasure.)

Over the summer I went and saw one of my old business advisors. She said to me, ‘You’re always here, stuck in the same place. Why don’t you want to make money? She told me she couldn’t help me and that I needed stronger medicine. She sent me to a psychic who asked me if I had problems with my ovaries. Only that I have them at all I answered. I was instructed to work on loosening my yellow chakra. I take this information and add it to the mix.

The perspective I gained from a season off the farm essentially helped me see that if I really want to push forward the next phase of our work, I have to tidy up and do some clarification around the money part. (Working towards becoming a co-operative has also forced this.) I’m tired of hearing myself contemplate authenticity and commerce. I will never crack the code on how to charge people fairly for farm stays, or eating or learning or any other experience that I feel should be free in our world.

More specifically: We’re scaling the soap and products portion of the business to allow for the farm experiment to continue without having to monetize experiences here. We’ll be open for visitors but without structured financial exchange (more on this soon). And we’re going to start making liquid soap, because liquid soap sells. I want obvious, clean (sorry) monetary interactions. I want so much clarity around what we sell, and for there to be clear delineations and tightly held boundaries around the money making aspects of our work. We’re outsourcing the soap production to a factory in Potsdam, NY run by the original gangster of cold process soap - the one and only Sandy Maine. This shift will allow for Susan to retire from factory work and focus on new product development in the soap factory and wool projects. Pentti - instead of cutting and drying hundreds of bars of soap every week will be free to research alternative health on the internet and cut firewood for the community.

I want to dream of new systems that allow us to evolve away from greed and fear and towards equity and true generosity - in order to do this I have to be careful and take care of those right around me, I have to get out of my own way and raise capital without such a struggle, I need a healthier relationship to money. And as we build physical worlds and relationships that will move us towards that different future, I think it's important to simultaneously hold capitalism with a certain reverance. Transitions are wildly uncomfortable because they force us to stand straddling two different paradigms. We strain as we hold multiple truths and navigate incongruent realities. To morph into something new we have to collect enough energy for a running start. And brace ourselves for the turbulent alchemy of evolutionary change!