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Another Life Reinvention in Nantucket

“You’re never too old to set another goal

or dream a new dream.”

                        --C.S. Lewis


Nantucket is an island built on dreams.  Populated by strong, adventurous, risk taking, forward thinking people who looked the impossible in the face and challenged it with daring, Nantucketers have values that are deeply rooted, and these values still flourish on the island today.  The history of Nantucket, from the Wampanoag Indians to the whalers to the women of Petticoat Row to the entrepreneurs of today, speaks to an economically viable community—a flexible community that changed when change was called for and found creative ways to reinvigorate the economy time and time again.  To survive and thrive, Nantucket has always been a welcoming, supportive, and collaborative community.  Today Nantucket remains the same.  Only on Nantucket, could I begin to aspire to enter the world of business—the most unlikely of professions for me.

As some of you may note, I have begun this article with the same quotation with which I began a much earlier article—one on Invention and Reinvention.  In it, I wrote, “On my journey over the last seven decades, I have changed my identity and my place in the world more than once.  Like the Island I live on, I have reinvented myself in response to the personal, economic, and intellectual demands of a constantly changing environment.   And now I believe I am ready for one last transformation. . . I can’t think of a better place than Nantucket to discover who I am in this new and fabulous last life transformation.”  Well, it seems that I have even one more reinvention in my life than I had previously thought. 

My original plan was to become a visual artist.  Now it is to transform that art into a business.  

I have always defined myself as a creative person.  I love to cook and entertain.  For me there is art in the way one arranges things on the plate, the way one sets the table, the way people are placed at the table.   I am a teacher and a writer.  I have taught creative writing and advanced creative writing for years, and I have published poems, stories, and essays. But, as you know, because I write about it obsessively, on Nantucket this year I fell in love the painting.   I have spent all year painting, and I probably have over fifty finished pictures. 

I have, however, never had any interest in business.  I have never been good with finances.  Had I been, I would not be working three or more jobs on Nantucket.  As I have mentioned more than once in this column, my philosophy was to live for today since tomorrow might not come.  Do not adopt this philosophy—it is not a good one in the long run--although you may have a lot of fun and many wonderful experiences before the money runs out. Clearly, I am not good with money, and it is almost impossible for me to ask someone to buy anything.  So, I am the least likely person to want to start a business.  But I do—and in the spirit of the women of Petticoat Lane—I am going to. 

The idea started when my friend Katheryn called the other day.  You may remember her—she is the visitor from Texas pictured on one of my posts holding a giant lobster.  Katherine is a wild idea woman and most of the time her constant barrage of ideas makes my head spin.  She won’t be hurt by reading this, as I generally hold my hands over my ears and beg her to stop when she is on a roll. This time, however, she really did have a brilliant idea.  She said I should turn my paintings into postcards and notecards and eventually tote bags and t-shirts and puzzles and ask the shops on Nantucket to carry them.  I don’t think I would have had the courage to do this anywhere but Nantucket, but here I know that everyone supports everyone and there is a good chance that most stores will take at least a few of my cards to see if they sell.

My art is abstract, and you don’t see many abstract postcards and notecards.  All of my paintings are inspired by Nantucket—by the ever changing light, the different colors of the ocean, the variegated tones of the sky, the thousands of shades of gray that characterize the gray lady, and the browns and golds and greens of the beaches. I try to capture on canvas the feelings, the light, and the moods of the island.  Thus, I named my business ACKstrack Nantucket.

I started ordering prototypes of postcards and notecards immediately. Quickly I realized that starting a business is expensive. Just ordering a few postcards and notecards took my bank account to near zero.  When I showed my prototype cards to a friend who is an artist and a photographer, she saw problems that I had not thought about.  The pictures of the art were not as clear and crisp as they should be.  Fortunately, I actually have a good camera that a student once gave to me, so now I am busy learning how to use it.  She also pointed out that instead of using an online—not very expensive—printer, I should go to someone on Island who could work with me to produce a really fine quality product.  

Clearly I needed money for a start-up. 

I had vaguely heard of Kickstarter somewhere, so I Googled it.  It is a crowdsourcing platform.  The person looking for funding answers a number of questions and writes a proposal.  He or she sets the amount of money needed and establishes a time limit to collect it.  Backers can contribute anything from one dollar to thousands of dollars.  It is, however, an all or nothing deal.  If you raise the money in the allotted time, you get it.  If you do not, the backers are not charged for their pledges, and you get nothing.  The challenge is making the goal, and it turns out that this takes creativity, work, tenacity, and a certain amount of luck.

In order to make the goal with Kickstarter, you have to publicize it—get news of your project out into the world in a way that attracts backers. This is not so easy!  Of course there is Facebook, and I have used it unmercifully.  Pretty soon, I may have lost all my Facebook friends if they get another post from me about my project.  I have also gone to Linked in and Twitter and Instagram.  The problem is that all the same people generally use all of these sites, so they are getting quadruple hits. I keep trying to think up new and exciting ways to promote my project—a contest to title the post cards and notecards—bigger and most inventive and exciting rewards—and I am sure I will come up with more.  I go to bed thinking about ideas, and I wake up thinking about ideas.  

I set my goal for $3000.00 to be raised by July 8.  I currently have $488.00 and 47 days to go, so there is a good chance that I won’t make it.   I have, however, been touched by the people who have backed me so far. Three are students that I taught at Hotchkiss many years ago; another, three are young women that I taught at Stuart four years ago--young people for whom I suspect money is tight, and to whom I am especially grateful.  One backer is a good friend from Nantucket.  I was delighted and surprised by my last backer, the mother of a student I taught quite a long time ago at Chadwick in California.  I have not seen her or been in contact with her beyond FB for at least fifteen years, yet she responded.  Amazing!  

My son-in-law, who is an amazing business man, tells me that starting and running a successful business is harder than it seems.  I am sure that he is right and that I have a lot to learn.  This was confirmed today when I consulted a photographer who said I need more high resolution prints, and who also suggested working with a good printer on the Island rather than an on-line service. 

Still, in the spirit of Nantucket, I am going to forge ahead and make a go of this no matter how hard it is. 

Oh—and in the interest of shameful promotion, if you want to read my project proposal, find it here.