Oh, how I wanted to be rational and do a thing to make money with art! How I wanted to believe in the market, be yare, and show up and play! And I still do. But I cannot force myself to care about drop-shipping long enough to even try the experiment properly for a week.
This is as far as I can get: the model makes sense in terms of generating value—wholesalers get customers, customers get the idea and customer service, and middle-men sell their services on both sides in all sorts of market contexts all the time to good benefit for all parties. The rationale is good—I build brand for Wilde Thinks drop-shipping relevant stuff like art supply kits (which sell well on Etsy), learn more about merchandising that will be relevant to my primary art projects later since successful art businesses do merchandising, and start making sustainable passive income sooner rather than later to support continued creative production and freedom.
Where it breaks down in practice, again, is that I do not care. I do not care about cheap crap. I do not care about where you buy your art supplies. I do not particularly want to sell them to you, although I very much want you to be making your art, and am quite happy to give you ideas and encouragement in that endeavor should you so desire.
But what I care about is my art. And my art—although I can pitch it, I keep hearing I have hustle, and some evidence suggests I do in fact have hustle—is not business.
What I mean is that I see art in business and economics. I see successful businesspeople are doing their art, whatever their business may be. But my own art is primarily writing and painting. Specifically, poetry. Specifically, oil painting. These are the least lucrative subfields of the least lucrative subfields of one of the notoriously least lucrative fields in the world. This is a problem for the part of me that likes eating, sleeping in safe places, and back-up plans.
And my back-up dreams include memorizing great literature to carry around inside my soul and pretend with other people who have done that totally crazy thing that we are characters from these stories (I have done some acting/modeling in a past life), and getting other people to read this great literature to ask good questions about it even though personally I don’t have good answers about much of anything (I have done some teaching/postdockery in another past life).
In light of these dreams, I am not sure why the credit card companies and bank have extended me the courtesy of risk.
But first of all, I am being my best possible self by following my heart, trusting, and risking more. I am being a good role model for people I love and believe in like I don’t believe in myself, who I want to see follow their hearts, trust, and risk more, because OTHER PEOPLE are so obviously amazing.
And second of all, being a psychologist, I know this is a problem of selective attention. And I can solve it by paying attention to how things are going to go right when I least expect it.
Maybe this experiment’s failure was even one of those ways. My drop-shipping experiment brainstorming devolved quickly into a brainstorming session for the illustrated poem-story book series Where the Wilde Thinks Are. And although I think I should force myself now to make a list of wholesalers to ask a questions list to, to merchandise the ideas behind the series before producing it—to run the drop-shipping experiment just for a week with minimal capital investment—I just want to produce the series.
Even though I’m so scared about debt and homelessness, I’m not sure I can make the art now. I took away my art studio and supply money leaping in this direction. But this is all I want to do. I took the leap in part because I had such a great flow experience going in my art, I thought—I can do this living in my car, with a pencil and a napkin. (Then I sold my car.)
So I had better just do it. I can’t seem to do anything else anyway. I almost can’t physically move today because I can’t paint where I am, and I need to paint. But I followed my heart here, and I know it was right. I just don’t know why.
Here’s my brainstorming, then, on the first four books in the series.
Where the Wilde Thinks Are
The idea is to translate science to make world peace through art. So I identified the four worst problems I the world—things that curtail freedom and flourishing, but don’t have to. Most of the brainstorming is thing-directed because I was trying to figure out how to do this in a quick-and-dirty way with kits, but I think I’ll end up using it to write poetry and illustrate the stories instead.
You can see it devolve topic by topic into book brainstorming rather than drop-shipping brainstorming. So basically, my business plan is to write and illustrate children’s books combining poetry and oil painting with interactive activities, art supply merchandise, and academical footnotes. This is not my worst plan ever. Furthering abundance, sustainability, safety, and happiness seems like a pretty good goal, even if I am trying to make money for once in my life. (And we all know making money is greedy and being greedy is bad?)
Economic insecurity is one of the worst things in the world. It makes people feel unsafe to flourish, which is the opposite of world peace.
An arts-and-crafts kit drawing selective attention to the inverse of economic insecurity, to make the world feel safe to flourish, might include:
– the Almighty Dollar
– foreign coins (assorted)
– green things or instructions for finding/making your own green things
– the cornucopia as symbol of plenty—and food spilling out of it (fruit, candy, chocolate, nuts, roast, cakes)
– candles, wildfire
– flowers, blooming, seeds
– googley eyes
– the sun and moon (power)
– justice scales (karma)
But you need a book to explain the ideas here, and the science behind them, or the message can get lost too easily. This isn’t about commercialism, worshipping money, or blaming the victim of poverty or bad luck—the way some people misinterpret books expressing similar ideas, like The Secret. But rather, it’s about the science of selective attention as it applies to trust and luck—and those things as they apply to money and networking.
There is a ton of research on this, but researchers themselves often fail to apply it by continually drawing selective attention to inequality, unfairness, violence, and prejudice. What if research on those things actually undermines people’s success in some respects by drawing selective attention away from success? Attentional resources are limited and we are all choosing where to direct them all the time—whether we’re aware of those choices and making them in our own interests, or not. This choice is what makes serendipity happen in lots of ways.
For instance, in a coffeeshop experiment with self-described lucky and unlucky people, the people who think they are lucky are more likely to see the money on the ground and pick it up, and then buy themselves and a stranger a cup of coffee, make a friend. “Did anything special happen?” the researchers who sent them to the café asked. Special things happened to the self-described lucky people. Because they were tuned into how they were already special. They were open to the universe giving them gifts. They picked up the money lying on the ground. They smiled at strangers.
Relatedly, Covey talks about the abundance mentality in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Focusing on abundance and success, not zero-sum resource allocation, makes better business outcomes. Game theory bears this out in economics. Plato’s allegory of the cave—risk the unknown or never know what you don’t know—echoes the idea in political philosophy. And recent empirical research on the relationship between trust and country-level economic development is consistent with the same basic idea that if you believe you are lucky, people are good, and the universe is abundant enough that you can go for what you want even though that entails risk—everyone is likely to benefit, you’re more likely to get lucky, and the universe will turn out to be more abundant in the end.
This kind of risk-attracting-good has happened twice in my life when I took what were to me notable risks to follow my dreams, and they paid off. Last spring, I spent $600 (which seemed like a lot of money at the time) on a screenwriting class in LA, I was the only one in the class to get a whole screenplay drafted in the class. I worked hard, had fun, learned a lot, generated a draft. And then I got hit in traffic on the way to class one day, rear-ended, saw it coming and had no where to go to get out of the way. And the other girl’s insurance company paid me $600. The universe took care of me taking that class.
Six years ago, I quit my full-time nanny job that I worked for the first year in grad school, to move my disabled mom and I closer to campus so I could take a summer Russian intensive. I had always wanted to study Russian, because it’s beautiful. I told the landlord I didn’t know how I would pay the rent, but that I would. He believed me. And the next day, my mom got off the Section 8 waitlist she’d been on for 4.5 years, that I had forgotten about. (I had paid her rent during that time, and it became the new normal; I didn’t think it would ever change.) I told the universe I was really serious about wanting to learn Russian, and the universe heard me out.
Sometimes, I think the meta-lesson about positive selective attention, goals, risk, and trust apply to equal opportunity stuff too, in a way of thinking that will further alienate any academic friends I still have after leaving a Harvard postdoc to make art. But the idea is that if you focus on excellence and fairness rather than discrimination or diversity and failure or inequality, you will generate more excellence and fairness that way because of how selective attention works. So the best thing you can do for women is to celebrate successful women rather than focus on sexism. And the best way to celebrate successful women is to make their success about excellence, not sex.
But that is an academic argument, and one that no academics want to hear to boot. It is not politically correct to suggest that equal opportunity goals are furthered rather than undermined by selective attention on values beyond equality—rather than attention to equality (or inequality) itself. That perhaps, like Mona Lisa’s smile, you have to look beyond fairness to feel its glow in the picture. Some research on colorblind racial ideology supports the extension of this idea to some facets of equal opportunity with respect to race too, although that research picture is complicated.
It doesn’t mean sexism and racism don’t exist if we choose to focus on success instead of failure. It means we want people to succeed and recognize the power of positive selective attention—and the importance of trust to risk, and risk (along with discipline) to attainment.
Environmentally unsustainable social practices are another one of the worst things in the world. Climate change, water insecurity, food insecurity, poor air quality, and other sequelae of such practices have long had serious security consequences. In other words, environmental degradation is another opposite of world peace.
An arts-and-crafts kit drawing positive selective attention to ways we can face this problem with hope might include:
– a lizard with a regenerating tail
– a giraffe with an evolving neck
– recycled paper
– bottle caps and glue
– seeds to plant
– a book to make your own neighborhood story and map, making a game of walking not driving, shopping local, and otherwise contributing through lifestyle to sustainability
– bear arms for being a very serious tree-hugger
– ant stickers (because you can lift your weight in sustainability, and together we can take the cake)
– other things that are too silly even by my standards to post on my blog
Violent crime is another one of the worst things in the world. It’s another opposite of world peace. And art that flips it by drawing selective attention to its inverse thus makes world peace in people’s hearts and minds.
An arts-and-crafts kit drawing positive selective attention to ways we can make the world feel safe to flourish and defeat the terror of violent crime might include:
– a symbol of safety, sanctuary, or white light—like a candle
– a symbol of peace, water, and the feel of being surrounded by peaceful water—like shells
– a symbol of feeling loved, appreciated, and valued for who you are—like a mirror medal
– a magic safety net symbolizing the idea that you can try/risk and trust the universe to catch you when you fall—because you must risk the fall in order to succeed
– a symbol of feeling pure and clean, like white lace, doves, bunnies, daisies (maybe as sticker sheet of these things)
– a passport book to fill in with a picture of your best possible self, and stamps for places you’ve been (in your imagination or in real life) and want to visit again
– a translation of procedural justice research in the form of magnetic die that have positive sides coded T for trust, and negative sides coded M for mistrust, where T faces on the die attract one another, and M faces attract on another too—since trust and mistrust spiral in real life
– an honoring braid set of three ribbons—one to write a nice thing about yourself on, one to write a nice thing about your best friend, and one to write a nice thing about your worst enemy, before weaving them together
– violent crime focuses on getting something (be it property, control/dominance, or retribution), rather than giving something. So a positive selective attention refocusing solution to this problem refocuses on giving rather than getting. So an arts-and-crafts kit accompanying a book about this could have a set of labels for boxes, or a little bag to decorate, for giveaway stuff to be on the lookout for how you can give what you have.
– a few drawing exercises geared toward recognition of the idea that the world is a big, diverse ecosystem, where random good things (as well as random bad things) happen all the time
Depression and anxiety are another one of the worst things in the world. And they’re not just “in your head.” Depression is a leading cause of death and disability in the world, especially among some of the people I respect the most—like veterans. And these problems are the opposite of world peace, because they are the opposite of individuals feeling safe to flourish.
An arts-and-crafts kit drawing positive selective attention to ways we can make the world feel safe to flourish by beating depression and anxiety might include:
– enamel paints, representing shiny iridescent happiness
– blank space, representing possibility
– a workbook with exercises for drawing out pictures of and next-steps to experiment with different best possible selves—translating an evidence-based positive psychology exercise for a popular audience
– a Beckett button. You hit the Beckett button when you’ve tried and failed, and tried again. Then you try again.
– an interactive storybook and sheet of two types of stickers that translates Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets for kids. Anxiety and the fixed mindset of judge-and-be-judged is like pox (dot stickers), while just trying and the growth mindset of learn-and-help-learn are like inoculation (bandaid stickers). So doing is the vaccine for fear and failure.
– a gratitude compass that directs your attention in five different directions (four external, one internal) to help you stay in touch with gratitude, a proven happiness-increasing exercise from positive psychology)
– an optimism butterfly that directs your attention to five things (four wings and a spine) that have gone right today (another symbolic embodiment of another proven happiness-increasing exercise from positive psych)
– other things that are too silly even by my standards to post on this blog
These are the best answers I can think of to the worst problems in the world.
Maybe my ideas are very silly. Maybe none of these things are even my ideas. MAYBE NOBODY CARES.
Or maybe my art business drop-shipping experiment that has turned back into the illustrated poem-story series that was my first priority anyway is just not developed enough yet.
Maybe I need to try to re-think of putting together these kits—if I can, cheaply, through wholesalers—as putting together an online art exhibit. I do believe in the ideas behind them. I do see, step by step, how helping other people making art that directs selective attention in these ways is actually a way of furthering world peace. And I do want to succeed as an artist and entrepreneur. Without preaching as a (reformed) academic, or compromising as a (wannabe) jobbing artist.
I’m just not sure I’m on the right track. I’d rather explode paintings and poem-stories along these lines now, but I’m having trouble creating without my sanctuary, my art-cave where I can be completely alone. And I don’t know what to do about that even though it’s a problem entirely of my own making.
I’m also frustrated that these ideas seem so wonky and theoretical. Maybe I should refocus on publishing the poetry book I have already written, to learn more about self-publishing by doing and show people I can write. And just start blogging the two short children’s stories I have written, to get myself illustrating again with the simple tools at my disposal. Maybe I can get reader feedback that way. Maybe I can break my block and do a better job structuring the Lorax of policing that I wanted to prioritize and that I have written thousands upon thousands of words of brainstorming on without managing to structure—if I just make something instead of trying to figure out what to make.
All I know is, I’m still working towards being a jobbing translational scientist-artist in a way that’s true to myself. And showing up to that work in this way right now is the best I can do. So I’m doing it.