The Opposite of Selling Is Connecting: How I Escaped Kickstarter Hell

by helenzuman, September 19, 2017 in Memoir, Zendik

In five years at Zendik Farm, I spent countless hours selling Zendik merchandise (magazines and CDs, plus stickers and T-shirts bearing the slogan “STOP BITCHING START A REVOLUTION”) all over the South, Northeast, and Midwest, at concerts and festivals and on city streets. Selling did not come easily to me – often I dreaded it – but it was part of the deal. And, on good days, I welcomed the chance to interact with non-Zendiks, the camaraderie of kicking ass with my crew, the thrill of measurable accomplishment. (At the end of every shift, before combining all the bills into a single stack destined for our leader, each of us counted her own cash, announced her own number.) So I persisted. Gained competence. Absorbed the ethos of seller as warrior – always vigilant, always “on.” Poised to pounce on stragglers stumbling to their cars, or shoppers leaving health food stores, or drivers gassing up at pumps near ours. Ever aware that my job, in a war zone, was to maximize booty for the cause.

Recently, running my Kickstarter campaign to fund publication of Mating in Captivity, my Zendik memoir, I felt sort of like I was on a thirty-day selling trip. This was great, in some ways: Driven to reach my goal, I was highly motivated to develop the skill of relentless outreach, which I’ll need, in spades, as I help my book find its readers. Plus, I was blessed with the form of obsession that allows me to groove on a project while forgetting what time it is.

The downside? A golden ticket to Kickstarter hell – where everyone I knew, or had just met, was a potential pledge (and should have pledged yesterday). Where I had to hurl myself down any channel I noticed, even if I sensed it was closed. Towards the end of my campaign, with a good chunk still to raise, I envisioned working the street in Beacon on Second Saturday, or the farmers’ market the day after. Descending on Prospect Park (in Brooklyn, where I grew up, and lived until recently) with flyers and an iPad. Leaving solicitations in mailboxes, on my daily eight-mile walks. I didn’t want to do these things; I didn’t even believe they’d be effective. But some part of me – the Zendik part – whispered that if I didn’t, I wasn’t truly committed to my book project. That if I didn’t, I would fail.

Even at Zendik, though, I occasionally broke through the hard sell to a well of humility and communion. (Usually I was pushed to this by crisis, by a catastrophic failure of my usual approach.) From this place, I was able to see people as individuals. To talk with them, not at them. To connect, in the present, rather than barrel ahead to the part where they pulled out their wallets.

Launching my Kickstarter, I knew I wanted – needed – to draw from that well. And, most of the time, I did.

In many messages sent to friends, associates, relations I hadn’t heard from in months, or even years, I both requested support for my project and expressed a desire to reconnect. But sometimes, feeling desperate or rushed, I dispensed with reconnection. And lost out on whatever potential for linkage I might have found.

* * *

From March 11 through April 10, I checked for new pledges umpteen times a day. I looked to them for proof that my outreach was working, or nudges towards a new course. Though I did manage to exit Kickstarter hell, I still paid incessant attention to the number. The result.

Now, more than three weeks after the campaign’s (successful) end, I find myself attending to something else: A feeling of being held, in a net both steely and delicate, by all who cheered, and all who pledged. This net, it seems, is mycelial – vast, hidden, working its magic in murky fertility. Which means it would be foolish to mistake its fruiting bodies (dollars raised) for its heft, or its essence. Those are just the mushrooms. The yield I can see.

What pulses with possibility – what’s mine to tend – is the web underneath.


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