At the Arts Fest

I immediately regretted my shoe choice as I stepped out of my snow-colored Nissan. The sky was smooth, without a single cloud to roughen the clear expanse. But yesterday’s rain had left mud in the grass, and I was wearing high heels. As I walked to the back of the car and opened the trunk, I tried to keep my footing light. Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten as many servings of Pad Thai last night.

But Simone made the best Pad Thai.

With a folded table under one arm and a lace runner under the other, I fumbled around a bit before finally grabbing my phone and dialing Simone. I didn’t even let her offer a greeting after I heard the familiar sound that once signaled a phone having been picked up from its receiver.

“Why does your Pad Thai have to be so good?”

I could barely hear her “excuse me?” as the phone slid down my ear as a result of my now outstretched hand. I hadn’t expected to be greeted so quickly.

“Hey, I’ll call you back.” I told Simone, after which I let the call drop and shook hands with an older woman who I presumed to be one of the arts fest’s coordinators.


“Thank you,” I said. Despite the lack of clouds in the smooth sky, there was a decent breeze that refused to let my unruly curls stay behind my ears. I blew one away from my mouth before continuing, “Is there a sign in process or can I get set up right away?”

“Nope, no sign in, I just need your name,” the woman said as she held up a clipboard and lifted the spectacles that had been hanging around her neck. The woman’s cheeks creased severely as she smiled. “Which is good because it looks like you’re ready to go.”

I laughed. “Yeah, well, just wanted to make sure I had time to get everything set up.”

“Of course! Name, dear?” 

“Oh, Monica, sorry.” I hitched up the table to keep it from sliding out from under my arm, nearly losing my footing in the process. The woman steadied me with a hand on my arm.

“Need help, dear?”

“Yes, please. That would be great actually. My partner wasn’t able to make it today.” I didn’t want to lie to the woman. I had never been a fan of lying. Not even little white ones. But I didn’t have the energy to explain time and time again that arts festivals were something I did alone. That I needed to do alone. For many reasons. Not least of which was to maintain my current relationship.

Even such a small exchange was enough time for me to feel that sense of anticipation and vulnerability that I’d learned to associate with arts festivals. Being surrounded by hopeful people. People who put so much effort and sweat into their craft only to take it into the judgment of the public eye. Just for the chance of making a small profit. It saddened me to think that many of them probably left with less than they’d hoped for. And that made me wonder when a hobby being a hobby stopped being enough.

I didn’t go to arts festivals to help people make money. Maybe it was naïve of me, but I didn’t see them as being about that. I saw arts festivals as being more about the feeling that artists experience when someone is moved enough by their art to spend money on it—money that was made spending time on a potentially pointless job instead of on the buyer’s own hobby. The sentiment artists must feel to know that a stranger was so deeply touched by their art that it would become a part of that person’s home decor.

But I wasn’t so naïve as to think that vulnerability only came in the form of a stranger not being moved by an artist’s work. Vulnerability came in many forms, and I had a notion that one of its most raw forms came from parting with a piece. Whether painting or photograph or porcelain, artists had to part with pieces that were once likely their entire world. Their purpose for a few days, or months, or maybe even years. The reason they’d decided to let go of the stability of those pointless jobs that also paid the bills. I knew that not all artists were that way. Some were surely dentists and office managers by day, artists by night. Others perhaps only spent a day or a week on each piece and made several just like it at the same time. But I knew that chances were fair that for at least one vendor at every arts festival, that was the moment to make or break. So I liked to tread carefully.

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