Everything is Free

It looked good on paper, but then so did Socialism. We all know how that turned out. And if you ask those who waved signs at the recent “Occupy” rallies, they’ll tell you that Capitalism doesn’t work either.

“I want people to have my pictures,” Billy told me.

A fine art photographer and friend, he shared with me his idea that instead of offering his prints for sale at the Farmers and Crafts Market, that we should tell people that everything is free. When he first mentioned this to me, there was a long silence. How was I going to pay off the debt I had accumulated in printing my books if I gave everything away? Granted, no one was buying them and I wrestled with the probability that people just didn’t read books anymore. Or most likely, books in paper form from an unknown author. Really, what did I have to lose? I agreed to Billy’s experiment.

Being of similar mind when it comes to spirituality, we both believe that if we were to carry this out, then the forty dollars it cost for the space would be available to us before we went to the market. That came through. However, the morning of the market, it was raining. We debated whether we should go, but then remembered we had faith that this idea would work, that people would want our art for free.

The canopy was erected in the rain, our space making a total of five instead of the usual twenty booths. I unpacked my books and we set up some of Billy’s pictures. I suggested we make a sign that read “Art Appreciation Day. Everything is Free. No strings attached. Two items per customer.” Billy penned the sign and as the precipitation waned, our first ‘customer’ was Vera from the booth next to ours.

“Why is everything free?” she asked.

“I want people to have my pictures, and Michele wants people to have her books,” Billy replied.

“No way. Free? Nobody gives their stuff away for free!”

Vera insisted that she give us something, so she put $10 on the table and took a picture of lilies. Billy and I looked at each other. We didn’t expect people to give us money, and hadn’t brought anything in which to place the money. Billy created a box from some mat board and wrote “Good Karma Box” on the side. We left it at the back of the booth on the table.

As the rain clouds moved off, people began to walk the street. Some came out of the restaurant adjacent to the parking lot where the market was held. Because I was cold sitting in the shade of the booth, I moved outside the canopy and began to watch the people who walked by. What I noticed was interesting.

Most of the people passed by our booth, but stopped to look at, and much of the time, purchase one or more pieces of jewelry. One booth offered handmade jewelry (a piece of art which includes all the things that art brings to us), and another resold mass-produced items imported from another country.  My comment later that day to Billy was that people wouldn’t pause to look at a picture of nature (I also noticed and commented similarly when we were at the zoo and saw how many people didn’t ‘look’ at the animals, or how many of them moved off immediately if the animal wasn’t ‘entertaining’ enough), something that could offer them peace or a connection to the universe, yet they would happily pay money for something that came out of a factory to adorn their physical body. There is so much about human nature that I have yet to understand.

Half the people didn’t even turn their heads to read the “Everything is Free” sign. I think this stems from nearly all of us having an aversion to salesmen and if we make the dreaded eye contact, then we’ll be sucked in and have to be mean in order to extricate ourselves from the clutches of the proprietor attempting to sell us something under the guise of fixing a problem we might have. Out of the half that looked at the booth, perhaps one-fourth read the sign, but kept walking. The other fourth stopped and talked to either Billy or myself about the truth of the sign.

“You can’t get nothing for free,” they said.

“Why is everything free?” they asked.

“What’s the catch?” they peered at us, waiting for the strings that they assumed they would need to entangle themselves with in order to ‘get’ something for ‘free’. Someone even laughed thinking there was a hidden camera somewhere and that they would find themselves on television or YouTube.

There were many people who looked through the pictures, complimenting, rightly so, Billy on his work. He shared stories of the pictures and encouraged people to dig through the bins and find something that they ‘liked’. In artist terms, this means ‘something that speaks to you’. We talked with  a lot of people, shook hands, and exchanged business cards. Three books found a new home, each signed to the happy owners, along with about twenty prints. Four of the five booth owners that day took a picture or two, or a picture and a book. In ‘exchange’, we were given cash, a necklace, and some hand lotion. There were some people who took pictures and didn’t feel the need to leave something in the Karma Box. That was fine. It never occurred to me that someone would take cash out of the box since it was sitting in the open, as most of the day, at least after the rain,  Billy and I were outside the booth because there were so many people inside looking at pictures and books.

If you have read any of my posts before, you know that I believe the muse for all artists is that creative intelligence that runs through everything in the universe. When I write, when Billy takes pictures, we feel that connection. Yes, his pictures are beautiful and some of them make you think which side is up and what it actually is a picture of, as well as inviting the viewer to observe a glimpse of the connection that he captured with his camera. My stories are adventurous page-turners, but they also ask the reader to visit their beliefs and opinions on social matters. Both of us create because we’re invited to do so, and we believe that what we offer can point others in a similar direction, perhaps giving them an opportunity to connect as well.

At the end of the day, we were both buoyant with the positive energy we gave when people took what we had to offer, as well as what we received from those same individuals. There was $81.25 in the Karma Box. Did we ‘sell’ anything? No. We offered people what we had, and they in turn offered what they thought our gift was worth. How many pictures or books do you think we would have ‘sold’ had we not decided to give everything away?

Billy and I, and I’m sure many others, know that the economy, and society as a whole, would greatly improve if people changed the way they thought about buying and selling things. Why not pay a handyman or landscaper a fair wage for the work they do? Why not place canned goods in a perennial bin to feed those who cannot feed themselves? Why do we pay more for the same things, yet no one is any better off than before? Why are there more homeless when there is so much abundance? Why do people hold onto their money, they skills, their ‘things’ when they could be shared? How much do each of us need? If we don’t look someone in the eye, either a fellow shopper in the frozen food aisle or an artist at a crafts fair, then do we perpetuate our isolation and therefore continue to ‘hang onto’ what we believe is important? How often to we exchange the warmth of connecting with another human for a few minutes to get further down the road or to home  or work a bit quicker?

I attended the Saturday market on my own, and after a reminder, told people that the prints and books were free. Two people took two prints each. The energy level was different. What occupied my thoughts after the market today wasn’t that people took what was free and didn’t offer anything in exchange. That wasn’t an expectation that I had. But instead, my conditioned, fear-based self thought how would groceries and feed for the animals would be bought if I continued to give everything away for free. The feed store owner, the oil companies, the hospital, and the dentist, don’t work for ‘free’. They don’t offer their skills or their products in exchange for what others might deem they are worth. Because of my responsible nature, I will pay taxes on the $81.25. It will then be reinvested in prints that Billy can continue to offer for free. It would be ideal if we could earn a living this way, people finding value in what we have to offer, a connection that perhaps they otherwise may not recognize. And because I, like most of us, am stuck in the capitalistic mentality, I fret over having enough. Is it lack of faith in people? In the universe? Leave a comment below if you agree or disagree with our thoughts on how society can be. If you’re interested in the books I gave away, you can view them at www.myjoyenterprises.com Billy’s work can be enjoyed at http://web.mac.com/billyrhoades/