I have, of late, been living in the Land of Etsy. I buy things that strike my fancy, usually small things, sometimes odd things. I bought most of my Christmas gifts there, and the vast majority of my own wish list came from my Etsy “favorites.” As I write, I am wearing a necklace that is the most simple, elegant and lyrical of silver crescent moons. I coveted it for months, and was as thrilled to receive it from my husband as any woman has ever been in one of those ridiculous, jewelry store ads. Keep your cheesy diamonds; I am in love with my hand crafted moon, just the right size to fit around my index finger when I’m feeling fidgety. (Every kiss really begins with “E”).
I have, for quite a long time, been deeply disenchanted with mass merchandising and retail in general. There was a time when I got excited because Liberty of London was launching a line at Target, but the older I got, the more I felt drawn to things made by hand, be they technically “art” or “craft.” I also grew exhausted by the bright falseness of the stores that used to offer “retail therapy.” I am no longer exhilarated by the rows of merchandise that speak of easy bounty; I find them macabre in this economy. These days, I am drawn to the repurposed, the upcycled, the handcrafted and the fair trade. Even more, I want a connection to a person who has put a bit of herself into the creation of my mug, scarf or notecard. I liked it that no one else has one just like mine, and I am thrilled to support working craftspeople, and do it without burning a drop of fossil fuel.
There is also a delicious three-part adventure involved in an Etsy purchase. There is the hunt, as delicious, tentative and heady as falling in love. Sometimes it's a coup de foudre – I saw a watercolor of a cat, fork in hand, looking balefully at a plate of peas and I wanted it. The artist’s work evoked Beatrix Potter, Tasha Tudor, and made me smile every time I looked at it. Other times I fall in love after a long hunt, searching by keyword, narrowing my choices like a dating service, and then realizing that I keep returning to look at that mug, which is apparently my soul mate among drinking vessels. The second part is the purchase and anticipation, during which I know that something lovely is coming in the mail, and finally, there is the day when the purchase arrives swathed in bubble wrap or newspaper. I receive things in tiny, adorable drawstring bags, Kraft brown boxes tied with snips of twine and tiny charms, and wrapped in remnants of quilt fabric. Often, there is a bit of lagniappe included, maybe a few sample vials of perfume oil or a translucent sliver of obsidian. Although I paid for them, and even if I bought them to give to someone else, each Etsy packages is like a gift prepared for me with care and love.
Now that I’m warmed up a little, I will admit the true, beating heart of my Etsy obsession: I have rich fantasies in which I am The Etsy Girl. When the world presses down hard, I retreat to the alternate universe in which I live in an apartment in Brooklyn. It has exposed brick, and is located over a shop selling artisanal cheeses. Above me is a flat rooftop where we garden in the summer, and my apartment includes a large studio space with long tables made from salvaged doors on sawhorses. When I am not at my job creating window displays, I am making something beautiful in my studio. I look very much like Zooey Deschanel (with brown eyes), wearing fingerless gloves and holding a handmade mug with its own Fair Isle mug cozy. Some guy with hair falling into his eyes and the perfect amount of stubble is sitting in a sprung armchair in the corner playing his guitar and singing. Before we make ourselves some vegan enchiladas for dinner, I will pack up my orders to send out the following morning. I do not own a television set, my clothes are all vintage (except the Doc Martens my parents got me for Christmas), and I am sweet and totally post-ironic.
When I browse Etsy, and something stops me cold, I ask myself “what would the Etsy Girl think?” The answer is that she would think it was quirky, and interesting, maybe not her “thing,” but the expression of someone’s creativity and therefore valid and worthy of respect. I do not love everything I see, and I am well aware of Regretsy, but I find that Etsy is actually a very interesting window into other worlds, particularly in the context of items that make me scratch my head and wonder why anyone would create or buy them. I am not, of course, The Etsy Girl. Well, mostly I’m not. I can look at an offering from my point of view as a middle-aged, Midwestern wife and mother and think that I would never buy or use certain things…but someone would, and someone else imagined and created them, and the mental exploration of those sellers and buyers is a rich vein of creative gold.
Best of all, for me, anyway, I have been inspired to create again. I am about to learn needle felting, and I can’t wait to look through piles of candy colored wool roving and take it home to follow its lead. I recently ordered a set of ridiculously cheap chandelier prisms and created a funky sort of make-do sun catcher by suspending them from ribbons tied to a piece of wood I found on a walk. I am not The Etsy Girl, but there is something in that virtual world that moves me and brings to life that long-haired vegan girl in a vintage sweater and a ring with a raven on it. I kind of love her.