After I first appeared in Art Doll Quarterly in the fall 2012 issue, I was contacted by, Cyndy Sieving, who is the promoter of Artistic Figures in Cloth and Clay (AFICC), a national doll convention that takes place every other year. At first I thought it was a scam, everyday I seem to have emails from places that want to display my art or publish my art in some book, for a small fee of course. After emailing back and forth with Cyndy, I decided to go for it and apply to teach at the convention in 2013. I was delighted when I got the email that I had been accepted to teach 2 of my classes, but then panic began to creep in! However, like Scarlett O’Hara I decided, I would worry about that tomorrow, or in this case April of 2013. It seemed a very long way off.
Cyndy is a very professional promoter. AFICC, is well organized and she updates everyone frequently. Before I knew it April had arrived. Even though I was busy preparing for two gallery shows and the conference, I still found myself stressing over the conference. What had I done? Why had I agreed to this insanity? I booked my plane ticket, noting the non-refundable part of it. Maybe I could call in dead?
With each day that drew me closer to the date I would leave I found new things to stress over. Trying to keep my mind off of it, I worked up to the very last night, packing my paints, varnish, tools, etc in my suitcase. I don’t think I slept any that night. I worried about getting to the airport on time, finding my gate, going through airport security and meeting Cyndy at the airport when I had never seen her in person before.
My husband was dropping me off at the airport, and as I hugged him goodbye I didn’t want to let go. I was excited about going on this new adventure but at the same time I was terrified! I had never flown anywhere by myself, let alone taught at a national doll convention!
My heart was pounding as I stepped into the airport security line, inching my way along with everyone else, with my ID and boarding pass in hand. Imitating what everyone else did, I put my shoes and jacket in a bin and my nook and Mac laptop in another bin, then waited for my turn to walk though the metal detector. As the officer waved me through I heard the contraption beep overhead. My first thought is, my husband was right, it’s not smart to wear an underwire bra to the airport! But no, the TSA officer says that I’ve been randomly selected to have my shoes tested. They pull my shoes out of line and swab something over them, I’m noticing for the first time just how much cat hair is stuck to them. I wonder if I’ll be detained for cat hair. She puts the swab in a machine, it makes a humming noise then it lights up and she tells me I’m cleared but that my Nook and laptop were sent through on top of each other and that’s a no-no, so they are sending them back through. She walks me back over to the group of people watching their items roll down the conveyor and says my items will be coming right out. Spying my nook and laptop, I quickly pick them up and slip on my bomb free shoes, making my way towards where I think my gate is.
I find my gate with ease and feel like patting myself on the back for getting through so many things I had stressed over, when I notice these poles with numbers on them. I’m flying Southwest and know that they do not assign seat numbers. On your boarding pass it states the order that you will be allowed to board the plane. Mine says A 44. There are poles that go all the way up to 25 but not 44. I start to wonder how this is going to work, when the airline employee of Southwest announced our flight number and that they will begin boarding. People flew to those poles like there was free Godiva chocolate stuck to them. I stared in amazement wondering where I was supposed to stand. I spotted an elderly lady who could not move as quickly as the other people and took advantage of her pace by asking her if she could help me. Thankfully she took pity on me, after looking at my boarding pass, she explained to me that there were also numbers on the other side of the pole! DUH! Boy, did I feel stupid. She hobbled me over to the other side of the poles showing me where the number 44 was and tucked me into the line of people that were waiting to board. I wanted to hug her, but I settled for thanking her and watched her slowly make her way to her own pole. As the line began to move I couldn’t help but feel like a herd of cattle being corralled into transportation.
It’s a quick flight from Missouri to Ohio and luckily it was one of the very few straight through flights. The man next to me attempted to make small talk, he asked me where I was going and why. When he found out I was teaching doll classes, I got that same confused look that so many people give me and then the “oh” answer. After that, only silence. We arrived in Ohio 15 minutes early, thankfully. I began to worry about how I would find Cyndy in the airport, let alone my luggage. I spotted the baggage sign and followed the stream of people down the escalator toward the circular spinning silver platter of luggage. Right away, this very nice lady with a bright smile walks up to me and says, “Hi I’m Cyndy Sieving.” WOO HOO! She’s found me! It did help that I was carrying a purse with my artwork on the side! There could be no doubt who I was.
After gathering up another teacher, Christine Lenz, we made our way back to Cyndy’s home. Cyndy graciously invites the teachers to her home for a dinner to get to know each other before the conference begins. Sitting around the table with other teachers and doll artists was surreal to me. Being with people that “get you” is amazing. Friends and family support you and cheer you on, but there is nothing like being around people who understand completely. The fear of not knowing anyone quickly dissolved. I felt as if I had knows these amazing ladies for years. It was a tad overwhelming to me though. I’m not good with names, and trying to place names with artwork was a struggle. There was one woman whose stories were fascinating to me. Her name was Gloria Winer. Yes, yes, I know what you all are thinking! How could you not know?! I am truly isolated in my own little Soul Sucker world, sometimes! Meeting Gloria “Mimi” Winer, Christine Lenz, Dawn Schiller, Kathryn Walmsley, Barbara Schoenoff (and friend Liz), and Lucy Landry along with Vicki, Janet and Patti at dinner that night will always be a fond memory. After searching for kindred souls, I had found them in the flesh. Not some mystical creatures that lived online, but actual flesh and blood doll makers.
Excited over this discovery, I decided to text my husband and tell him not to worry, that I was having a wonderful time, only to discover that my cell phone was going dead. As soon as I open my suitcase to retrieve my charger, all I feel is something wet. It’s all over the contents of my suitcase and in a little puddle is a note from airport security that they have chosen to open my suitcase and inspect the contents. I totally understand they were doing their jobs and I appreciate the measures that they go to, insuring me a safe flight. What I don’t appreciate is they opened the varnish that was inside a zip lock baggie, then did not properly put the lid back on, nor did they put it back in the Ziploc bag. I slammed the top back shut and quickly zipped it back up. It was too much to think about. What if it was all over my clothes? What would I wear? What about my brushes, and tools that were suppose to still be in that bag? Where they inside still? How would I teach without them? I started to feel the panic well up inside of me. This couldn’t be happening.
My new found doll friends took pity on me, understanding my fears about what waited for me inside the suitcase. I was spending the night with Cyndy’s friend, Vicky, who I have to say is one of the most giving people I have ever met. She took me into her home, helped me take everything out of my suitcase and clean it up as best we could. Luckily most of the varnish missed the main part of my clothes. My socks were crunchy and it got on my shoes and hat for the banquet, but overall it could have been a LOT worse! My brushes were ruined but they were inside the suitcase, along with my sculpting tools, which I was grateful for! I went to sleep that night, thankful for all the wonderful new people that I had met so far and only a little upset about the contents my suitcase.
I wake up early and so I wouldn’t disturb Vicky and her husband, I decided to check my email and check in on Facebook. I knew that something as familiar as that would sooth any jangled nerves I was feeling. After all today was the first day of the conference! I opened my laptop and stared at the screen. It was asking me for my password. I scowled for a moment hoping I would remember what the password was! I looked up at the user name hoping for a hint and sat there stunned.
It was not my name staring back at me. It was a man’s name. This was not my laptop! I looked around the room for Ashton Kutcher. I had to be being punked! It was a nightmare! I was quickly getting to my breaking point and feeling very homesick. Here I had made it through everything that I had worried about as far as the airport goes never anticipating that somehow they would switch my laptop with someone else’s! How was I even going to find this man? He could be anywhere in the world by now. Then the thought struck me, what if he doesn’t have MY laptop?
Coincidentally enough, Vicky’s husband works at the airport, and began to make some calls to try and locate my laptop. Every call was a dead end. My stomach sank a little further each time he hung up and shook his head no. I was beginning to think finding my laptop was hopeless. I tried to get on Facebook and find the man’s name that came up on the screen but my cell phone just kept searching and searching never finalizing the search. Frustrated I text my husband what has happened. Somehow he gets a hold of that one magical employee that works at Southwest Airlines in St. Louis, she is willing to help! She calls the travel agency that the man has booked through and they agree to give us his number! To say the man was relieved to know I had his laptop is probably an understatement. He had traveled to Louisiana to give a presentation as a new employee, plugged my laptop in and up pops my artsy screen saver. All he can say to everyone is “Uh, not my laptop?” Poor guy. I’m sure neither one of us will go through airport security the same again!
I’m beyond thrilled when he says he has mine! In fact after all the stress I can actually feel my eyes tearing up, and I am not a crier. But there is no time to feel sorry for myself or even relief that the laptop nightmare is over! Somehow we will figure out how to switch the laptops back.
Vicky fills me full of delicious coffee and fruit salad, then we pack up and head over to the convention. There is a meeting at noon that I have to be at. I find the goodie bag with my name on it and sink into the chair. I’ve made it! I’m finally at the convention! The room is filled with the all the teachers, including the ones that had not made it to the dinner the night before. Wow, only the night before? It felt like it had been a week ago! It was a little intimidating to be in a room filled with so many wonderful artists, but everyone was so warm and welcoming the feeling passed quickly.
After the meeting we went to our classrooms to set up for the classes that would begin the next morning. Unpacking my box that I had shipped ahead of me, I felt like an imposter. I had people in my classes that had been teaching doll making for years and years. What made me think I could teach them anything? What if the students didn’t feel they got their monies worth? What if they hated the doll? What if they hated ME? Doubt monsters are ugly things, aren’t’ they? They rear their gruesome heads when they know you are weakest, robbing all your confidence, and making you fearful. A friend told me once FEAR= False Evidence Appearing Real. My fear felt pretty real at that moment. But I knew there was no turning back, I would just have to do the best that I could.
Dawn Schiller was my roommate and a fellow teacher at the convention. I could not have asked for a better roommate! I confessed my fears to her that night and to my surprise she was just as anxious! We stayed up until 3 am fretting about the “what if’s”. But I have to say worrying with someone else was much more fun than doing it alone!
At 6:30 am we were up and moving, my stomach was in knots as we ate breakfast. I was only hours away from teaching for the first time at a national doll convention. All the worry, all the preparation, it was now here. It was time to sink or swim.
I took a deep breath and walked into my classroom. I was greeted by the brightest of smiles; everyone was so excited to be there. They listened intently to my instructions and it was amazing to me to watch their faces go from a concentrating scowl to a beaming smile at their finished dolls. I enjoyed the journey along with them, watching some of them discover new talents they didn’t know they possessed. My experienced teachers were a joy to have in the class and I hope they learned a thing or two! I was completely drained by the time the class was over, but it was a good feeling. I felt like I had shared pieces of me with others, and received joy in return. I’m not sure anything beats that feeling.
The rest of the conference flew by, I taught two more days of classes, hung out with my new friends in the evenings, and talked till 3 am with Dawn every night. Even though I looked forward to going home to see my family, I felt like I was leaving my new family. I was sad to see it end. The experiences that I had teaching for the first time at a doll convention will be memories that I will cherish always. The people that I met were amazing, and the joy of teaching will forever be in my heart. If you are ever offered the chance to teach at a doll convention I would urge you to do so with open arms. A little varnish on your things and a switched laptop are a small price to pay for the beautiful friendships and adventures you will gain. (By the way, I am typing this on the infamous switched laptop!)