The Voice of Dorothy Arnold

How do you tell the story of someone whose voice has been effectively lost from history?

That’s the problem I’m grappling with right now as I work on my first big non-fiction project, In the Land of Missing Girls. It will be the first full analysis of the still-unsolved disappearance of Dorothy Arnold, Edwardian-Era Manhattan socialite.

When Dorothy disappeared, her family destroyed virtually everything – her journals, letters, photos she’d taken with friends, etc. On one hand they argued they wanted to find her, on the other they were not just evasive with the police and press but frequently caught in bold lies.

There are thousands of newspaper articles chronicling Dorothy’s disappearance. There are hundreds of opinions about her, her family, and the case in general. But her voice is unreachable and I think that is even sadder than the fact that she disappeared.

St. Norbert Handmade and Vintage Sale (And craft shows in general)

This week and last week I did a craft show at the St. Norbert Community Centre – the Vintage and Handmade Sale. I participated in it last year (it’s first year… and my first ever craft sale) and I was incredibly impressed by it’s organization, selection of goods, and the traffic through the door… which was why I had no problem booking for two of the three weeks this year. I had very high hopes for my sales at the show, as did my mom (who is my craft show helper… and believe me, she’s awesome at it).

I will say this: the show was as well organized as last year. Kristie is so easy to work with, and it’s obvious she really put her everything into making sure the show would be a success. I saw posters up all over the neighbourhood in the weeks leading up to the show, plus tons of posts (including paid/sponsored posts) on Facebook. I have no doubt in my mind that she did literally everything she could possibly do to get people in the door. Unfortunately, the numbers just weren’t as good as last year’s. Last year at the show there were approximately 1000 people through the doors. This year, on the first week I did there were only about 500. The numbers for today haven’t been emailed out so I could be mistaken, but I’m going to guess it was somewhere around 650 people. An improvement, but still not growth over last year. You can’t force people to come through the doors, so this certainly wasn’t her fault.

Last week was incredibly discouraging, because when it came to sales, it was the worst sale I’d had to date. That changed today when the show this morning/afternoon became the worst sale I’ve had to date. (For sales/financials/profits/etc. NOT the worst for organization. Like I said, Kristie’s organization is fabulous and I don’t attribute poor traffic to her one bit! It’s not something she can control AT ALL.)

There are numerous factors that undoubtedly contributed to the poor sales we had. The traffic was the number one thing I think, because with half the people of last year, there was very little chance we were going to duplicate what we did in the past. This year there also seemed to be more vintage product, which mine is not (although my pieces ARE upcycled books). I don’t know if maybe there was just a different crowd coming in this year… more interested in vintage than handmade. But I know it wasn’t just us with dealing with minimal sales – I saw shoppers who came to our table who had been in the arena a while already and who had no other bags. It looked to me like people just really weren’t buying much in general. I had hoped last week was just a fluke (week one I actually had several really rude people come by too, which I’ve never actually had before at shows), but unfortunately, at least sales-wise, week one was my good week which is just plain disappointing. (But the shoppers were much nicer!)

Now, in my experience, crafters aren’t forthcoming with how they did/what they made at sales. I don’t know why that is. Between last week and this week I asked so many people how they did and their response was always “good”… which I know is a complete lie because I’d been watching their faces fall all day. Their postures slumping, a look of defeat on their face until finally, just before the show closed at 3pm, they’d start hurriedly packing up their products because they had had enough rejection.

I’m going to write a post in the near future basically detailing what I look for in a sale, what my sales goals are, and how I’ve done at each of my sales to date – along with traffic, if I can find those stats, and how many hours each show was. I have no problem with people knowing what I make at sales, or with them knowing what my goals are. I think that kind of knowledge can help us as a community grow. I’ve had several crafters in the past tell me they consider any show where they make back the cost of their table a “good” show. I fail to understand how that’s a good show – when you only make back your table fee you are making a grand total of $0 in profit, plus not paying for your time sitting there for 6 hours on a Saturday. Is it really worth it? I’d say not.

When a sale is going well, it’s a wonderful way to spend 5 or 6 or even 7 hours. You get to interact with so many different people and talk about shared interests. (Like your art.) But when a sale isn’t going well, it’s a nightmare. Crafters and artisans (like writers, which I am as well) pour their hearts and souls into their work and it’s rather hard to have people say, over and over again, “oh that’s nice” or “how creative”, but not think it’s nice enough, or creative enough, to part with their hard-earned money. Even worse is when you try to talk to someone and they brush you off and say they’re not interested, or they just nod along but you can tell they’re not even listing to a word you say.

So basically the point of this post is that between last week and this week I’ve drawn a few conclusions. One, I probably won’t do this same sale again next year (although I am doing Kristie’s Christmas sale in November). Two, I need to find other ways to sell that aren’t at craft shows (I’m already in two stores, one local and one in the USA, and I sell on Facebook and Etsy as well). Craft shows have a lot of jewelry, and although mine is incredibly unique, a lot of people see jewelry from a distance and pass on by before I can even talk to them and tell them what’s different about mine. (I make my pieces out of second hand books. You can check me out at my Facebook page: Book’d Creations) I have a few ideas about this, which are yet to come.

Ultimately I just wanted to get my thoughts about the show down, my impressions of how things went, before I lost that day-of urgency. I always say I’m going to write about the shows I participate in and never do. I’m rather behind on my blogging, but I hope to get back into the habit in the days to come – because I have a lot to write about!

Reading List (On-Going, Frequently Updated)

So with the program I’m taking (starting in September), there’s no assigned reading list. This has its benefits (no late nights cramming before a class so I know what’s going on the next day) and its drawbacks (no deadlines and due dates imposed on me, forcing me to get my butt in gear!). But it means I can really focus on the titles that interest me, and the subject matter I’m most excited about. Apparently, people tend to pick one focus when studying Judaism – history, theology, or mysticism. Ever the history nerd, I suspect after I really develop a solid understanding of the basics my reading will gravitate towards historical texts and analysis.

So this is my on-going, self-imposed reading list. Titles that are purple and bold are ones that I’ve completed. If you have suggestions for books that really should be on this list, comment and let me know!

  • Why be Jewish” by Edgar Bronfman
  • Choosing the Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends” by Anita Diamant
  • To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in the Contemporary Life” by Hayim Halevy Donin
  • To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service” by Hayim Halevy Donin
  • Jew and Improved: How Choosing to be Chosen Made Me a Better Man” by Benjamin Errett
  • The Anguish of the Jews” by Edward H. Flannery
  • Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Guide for Seekers” by Arthur Green
  • The Genius of Judaism” by Bernard-Henri Levy, translated by Steven B. Kennedy
  • The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism” by Dennis Prager
  • Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism” by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin
  • Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals” by George Robinson
  • A Code of Jewish Ethics” by Joseph Telushkin
  • Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, its People, and its History” by Joseph Telushkin
  • Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers” by Joseph Telushkin
  • The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living” by Joseph Telushkin
  • The Ten Commandments of Character: Essential Advice for Living an Honorable, Ethical, Honest Life” by Joseph Telushkin
  • Judaism” by Rabbi Jeffrey Wildstein
  • Why be Jewish?” by David J. Wolpe

The First Step (Part II)

My meeting with Cantor Mass was at 11am – I was so relieved to find that he was friendly, welcoming and happy to answer any and all questions that I had. (And I definitely had lots… and will have plenty more to come, I’m sure!)

I’m going to be starting the Choosing Judaism class in September. It’s not a “conversion” class in the strictest sense of the word… apparently in the past lots of attendees were already Jewish and looking to learn more about their people/history/religion/background. I think this is great, because I’ll be meeting a pretty wide variety of people when I attend.

The class runs from September 2017 to May 2018. I’ll get to experience all the major Jewish holidays during the program. If I still want to convert at the end of the process (I don’t have to commit ahead of time, but I am going into it with conversion in mind) I prepare an essay on my journey to Judaism thus far and stand before the Beit Din – generally a council of three rabbis – who will ask me questions and determine if I’m sincere and ready. If they decide yes, I go into the Mikveh (ritual bath) and come out a Jew.

It seems pretty simple, but I know it’s not – in that there’s a lot to learn and experience before I’m ready to take the leap. It seems rather foreign to me because growing up in a Christian (protestant) environment, you only had to say a little prayer and then poof, insta-Christian. They don’t require you to study, or learn, or understand what you’re getting into before you join. (I think the Catholic Church maybe does though? I don’t know anything about conversion to Catholicism.)

There’s no required reading list in this particular course, which is apparently something of an anomaly. But that’s okay – I’ll do my own reading. Oh and will I ever read! I already have about ten books coming in to the library near my place from other libraries in the city. I’m going to power through those before finding more. I’ll get what I can from the library, and buy copies if I really love them. There are some on suggested reading lists online that I can’t get out of the library so I’ll have no choice but buy them if I want to read them. But hey, I’m a big fan of book buying so this is no hardship for me. XD

I feel like I’m headed in the right direction, and it’s a good feeling.