Over the weekend, Michaela and I did a version of our dayjobs. These days we make most of our living selling ceramics. We do this through galleries and shops but we also attend a few ceramics fairs and craft events ,so on Saturday and Sunday we were in the Briggait, an old drafty drippy fish market in Glasgow.
It is Christmas, after all.
We had a lovely weekend. We sold a lot of ceramics, had lots of great conversations and won a a free place at the next WASPS artists fair because ours was judged the best looking stall. In the evening, we ate out at a lovely vegan eatery and went to see James Bond strut his stuff before retiring to our Budget Ibis hotel.
It felt like we had stepped out of our rural backwater in to the mainstream.
There is the rub.
We are amongst that wide slice of the UK whose income is reliant on commerce, and in particular, that kind of commerce that might be given a boost around Christmas time, when people splash the cash on friends and family.
Frankly, we have struggled a bit with this. How can it be right that we, who seek a simpler more sustainable life, unplugged as much as possible from mainstream consumerism, need others to buy OUR stuff so this life is possible?
Is all shopping part of the problem?
Well, no. Of course not.
Trade – as in the fair exchange of goods and services – is a human good. It is how we are able to mange our varied skills in community to benefit from the fact that not everyone is the same, and some can do things that others cannot.
At best these exchanges are face-to-face, and based around a local economy.
If you are interested in the difference between this kind of trading and the more globalised, multi-national, corporation owned, kind, you might be interested in what has become known as the Preston Model- the town where I used to live;
But leaving all that aside, back to our little stall in Glasgow. Thankyou to all of those who came and bought things; bowls, plates, vases, poetry books, pictures etc.. (And while I am at it- thanks to those who have bought things from our webstore or from galleries!)
We hope that we are able to provide a service, in terms of an object that carries meaning, that is a fair exchange (in terms of the work we do to make this object) for the money we ask in exchange.
In return, we try to use this money well, to buy services and goods from other people. Our income is small, and deliberately so, but what we have, we try to buy from local suppliers, or from free trade, sustainable sources. This is simply not always possible but we think it is important to do this not as a charitable excercise, but as a social good, and for the sake of our planet.
You may see this as tokenism. I do not agree though, for two reasons;
Firstly, if we try to follow a life of the spirt, we know already that we seek to find the meaning below the surface. The way we trade is a fundamental part of our lives, so how can we not see this as part of our spiritual journey? As we seek to change the way we trade towards greater justice and social/economic/environmental responsibility we are do this as a spiritual discipline as well as a financial one.
Also, one person doing this is a drop in the ocean, but that is not a reason not to do it. Rather, we seek to create chains of influence, which is actually the very thing that trade IS – a chain of influence that is lubricated and liquified by money. What we are seeking is to turn our small actions in to a mass movement and these always start small.
Let me make this clear. This is NOT an advertisement for our business- you will see I have not included any links in this piece. You can find many other small, local people who are just like us.
A couple more stories from our weekend.
Because we make things that deliberately carry meaning – or become a vehicle for the meaning that others ascribe to them – our stall is often a place where emotions run high. It is a regular thing to see tears or to suddenly find ourselves in deep conversation with strangers. It is a very deep honour to be trusted like this.
Over the course of the weekend, I spoke to people who were retiring and looking for something that marked the change, a woman whose mother had just died, someone who was seeking to find ways to make work oportunities for their learning disabled son and his friends. These were not small conversations.
Then there was this conversation;
We sold a small clock like this one, but with words on which read ‘Let’s whisper dreams of things to come’;
It was bought by someone whose best friend’s husband died two weeks ago of cancer, as a gift for her in her pain and loss. The more I think about it, the more lovely this seems.
Let’s whisper dreams of things to come.