Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Broken, Lonely People

With the festival season coming up, I've been thinking A LOT about how to improve the experience of coming in and buying a corset directly from me, the maker. I've been listening to countless audiobooks and podcasts while I furiously shove fabric into the sewing machine and try to beat my record time (this is a game I play to make sure that I'm able to produce large quantities of lovely corsets. I time myself on each piece, seeing how fast I can produce it while still keeping all of the quality present. )
Recently, I remembered a very significant incident that occurred this year at a festival. I was standing there, wishing Oklahoma would decide that humidity was NOT part of its soul, when a lady walked in, head bent down, not making eye contact. I walked over and asked her if she was interested in playing dress-up with me, and she gestured vaguely at one of the corsets that she was interested in. I grabbed her size, cut a ribbon and came over to lace her body. The second I got close and wrapped the corset around her, this unyielding stream of emotion came cascading forth. She started telling me about how she hadn't tried something like this on for years because she had spent so many years as a "fat-$%&" because her ex had stolen their daughter away from her and all she could do was sit on the couch and watch TV and eat to numb the pain. She pressed on with intimate details of abusive things her ex had told her, how she ended up losing the weight but still hating herself, how she was getting regular threatening texts from her ex's girlfriend, and how much she wanted that B- to $%$&^*^&. The woman divulged exact wording from these vile texts, what actions she planned to take, and information about how she and her current boyfriend were going to bring them down.

All of this came out while I was lacing the woman up. I was shocked into silence, which is a pretty great feat, and I numbly gestured toward the mirror in the booth so she could see herself. She gave it a quick, cursory glance, adjusted her breasts around, looked again, and then unlaced the corset and walked out. Phew! I felt like I had been hit with a sledgehammer of emotional angst, suffering, negativity, and regret. I was extraordinarily grateful that it was the end of the day, because I was feeling so desolate that I could hardly go on. Thoughts were racing around in my head like mosquitoes on a muggy Oklahoma night. "Who WAS this lady and WHY THE DEVIL would she unload her life's story onto me?" "Who shares that much with a complete stranger? I'm not some understanding bar-tender!" After the depression, I felt really frustrated and bewildered.

Luckily, I talked to my friend Tony that night, who is beyond intelligent and the most perceptive human being I've ever encountered. I related the tale of the woman who let her mouth run like a wild horse, and he turned to me, looked me in the eye, and said, "Michelle, there are a lot of broken, lonely people out there who are just dying for some human connection. The second you touched her and got into her personal space, she probably just came apart and latched onto the first person who would listen." This stopped me in my tracks, and later became sort of a turning point for me. It made me consider how much we can touch the people around us, and how important it is to put positive energy out into a world that is so chocked full of negativity and sorrow. I was suddenly MORE than some dork dressed up in steampunk/renaissance wear playing dress-up all day with patrons. I could actually use my position to help people!

So, that is my goal for this year. If you come into my booth, I want to make a connection with you and make you have this wonderful, positive experience that sets the tone for the event. I would love to create a MEMORY with you, create friendships with you, and build trust. I DID have a customer who was very upset at me this year because she said she came up to the booth wanting to talk and I ignored her. Ooooh, I agonize over this on a regular basis! The fact that there was even ONE woman out there that came away from me feeling dejected just makes me panic! I know I'm human and I really do have some pretty crappy days at festivals, but I can be BETTER. Please, OH, please, if you attend a festival that I'm at, come and talk to me. I'm not scary at all, I promise. I know that we have LOTS of times when our booth is so packed that there's no way you could even squeeze in, but just wait a few minutes, and give it another shot!

I'm so excited to meet more of you this year at my events, and I hope that if any of you are "lonely" or "broken", you will come to me! I will put my arms around you (while putting a corset onto your body) and we'll heal together.


  1. Aw, what a rough encounter. Yeah, people who are overwhelmed with stress, lack support systems, lack good communication and advocacy skills and are unhappy (I'm a shrink; I can't just say 'broken and lonely') tend to have what we call very diffuse boundaries and often share way to much. They just have to vent when they have the chance.

    You have a wise friend there, and a kind heart to use this uncomfortable encounter as a catalyst to help you seek out more and better human connection rather than try to avoid it. Yay, you!

  2. I have to admit, even without having stepped into your shop, because of your beautiful artistry, and creativity, you've touched me! <3 My Damsel corsets give me confidence, and a "lift" that I appreciate so much!

    Thank you !

  3. What a lovely thought and a fantastic goal! All of us who are re-enactors and vendors have a chance to touch people in so many ways. I hope that you have a wonderful season, both personally and professionally.

  4. Ah Michelle you and your friend have it! Human touch is necessary yet we live in a world that rejects that concept out of mistrust, harassment laws, etc...

    A corset is personal..... it snugly hugs you, and wraps you in a confidence that maybe you thought did not exist anymore.

    The combination of touch and this newly found (or refreshed) womanhood can be powerful.

    Keep smiling and putting out positive energy.... and know that you are doing the right thing....


  5. I *love* coming to your shop and saying hello when you're at PPF, but to be 100% honest, I'm always a little intimidated. Seriously. You: seriously beautiful, talented, crazy-awesome corset lady. Me: ...the pirate girl who is oddly obsessed with your corsets, along with every other girl on the planet. It's hard to measure up! But you have never been anything but perfectly kind to me, and I think you and your wonderful staff are just fabulous. Love you!


  6. Nicole! Can you come into my booth again this year and listen to me rant and rave for another hour? I LOVED if when you did that last time.

    Noel, Paige, Cheryl, thanks! I'm feeling the love!

  7. Jessica, you're a blast and a half, plus it's sooo FUN to see beautifully crafted cleavage!

  8. As one of the former Broken,Lonely People" I have to say though it was a shocking experience for you, you in most possibly gave that woman an amazing thing.
    I've watched your blogs,and dream for one of you corsets one day. But this blog touched me deeply. As at one time a stranger listened to my "outburst". That was a turning point in my life to lose the negitivity.
    Thank you for sharing.

  9. Lilith! That was beautifu;)l! I feel all warm inside toward you!

  10. There's something intimate about clothing, as well, and sharing an experience with another human being like that can bring out a torrent of emotions. It happened from time to time when I worked at a bridal salon. There's an odd bond formed when you're jostling someone into a form-fitting piece of fabric.

  11. Come to the Philadelphia/NJ/NY tri-state area, and we'll make sure that, not only do you connect with people and give hugs, but you'll GET hugs in return.
    You are loved and respected by a lot of people around here. :)

  12. It is wonderful that she felt comfortable enough to open her mouth in your shop. It may have unleashed an ugly deluge but the important thing is that she felt safe enough there to let it out. Not a lot of places like that on this rough and tumble planet anymore!

    BTW - do you have a list somewhere of festivals you'll be doing in July? Our family is panning a trip out West this summer. I'm going to be dragged through Carlsbad Caverns AND I'm going to miss a Paul Taylor II performance & master class that I'm helping to co-ordinate so I think that the least I can expect of my family (husband) is to plan on stopping at one of your festivals if it is near our route. ;)

  13. I get those type of people all the time, some say its because I look like the type of person who can just listen. Which is so true with me. I wish these festivals were closer to me so I could go :(. I live in Miami and we just had our Ren-fest a couple of weekends ago but they did not have anything close to the beautiful creations you wonderful ladies make. Thank you for making me feel sexy and desirable :D

  14. Michelle, thanks so much for this touching post. I've actually had a very similar experience to yours, though mine wasn't nearly as extreme. I could tell something was wrong and asked the girl if everything was alright; that's when she broke down and released all the pent up feelings she'd had for some time but hadn't been able to share. At the time I hardly knew her but because I was willing to lend an ear and a shoulder, she's now one of my closest friends.

    Your goal is inspiring and I'm proud to be numbered as one of your customers.

  15. I just had to leave you a comment and tell you how impressed I am that this is your reaction to that incident. A lot of people, I think, would have come away from an experience like this, having learned what NOT to do. I really find it admirable that you have gone in the oposite direction!

  16. Thanks again, ladies! I've had this stuff on my mind A LOT lately, because I've been feeling really down and sluggish, and it's because I was thinking of myself and not others! This has been a much better route for my mind to follow!

  17. Michelle, again you astonish me with just how amazing a woman you are. You are officially now on my list of women who blog (along with Shreve and Sunny) who I count as role models and inspiration. I hope to get out west to meet you someday.

    Also, good luck with your endeavor. :)


  18. Michelle, I will be delighted to lend an ear. Rant all you want. I'll even help lace up customers for you.

  19. I have to say that although I haven't bought one of your corsets yet you are one of the most humanly-connected-to-your-customers corsetiers I've come across. And that's why I tell everyone I can about you.

  20. Virginia, I just posted a list of all of my events on the facebook page!
    Danielle, I LOVE my dear human being connections! thank you, the internet! ;)
    Thanks again to the rest of you! You're helping me want to MEET my goals!

  21. I suppose I can understand how she could just let her emotions go like that. You make things that allow people to see themselves differently than they may have at any other time in their lives. I know when I wear my corset I feel sexy, bold, and even a little bit more daring if I may say so. And knowing that you and your loved ones put so much effort into every piece to make it special really does make that better. Even if a person is just playing "dress up" at a festival, it allows one to leave the mundane of everyday life so that they can spread their wings and see the fun life actually does have to offer. Or to even leave their shells and see the positive in themselves.

    You try so so hard to make sure to make everyone in your life happy, whether it is your family, friends, or fans/stalkers/customers. We all love you for it so much!

  22. I only wish I lived in the US or was visiting at the right time, so I could come and see you in person. As I'm down under, I'll have to content myself with your blog, FB posts and email.

  23. Michelle-
    I still remember the compliment you gave me when we first met. You stopped, talked to me and let me help out at your booth when you may have not even cared if I was around. You made my day less lonely. You gave me a way to feel helpful and productive and let me ramble on about me.
    Do you know how many people in this world will do that? You are a very special person who I am proud to call a friend.

  24. It was so intimidating and I was so shy but I'm glad I sought out your booth to try on my first corset. It gave me the confidence to know my size and get more from your Etsy gallery.

  25. Michelle, Not only are you gorgeous on the outside, you have a beautiful soul.


    Rhonda Bailey

  26. (this is a two parter comment! I couldn't fit it all in... )

    This post reminds me of what happened with my mom about 4yrs ago. I was taking my Mom, little brother & myself to visit the NASA Space Centre here in Texas. That morning as we're getting ready to leave my Mother feeds our dogs & lets them out to go potty.The oldest went missing & we went out to look for him.. He had just died on the side of the road, probably from a heart attack. We retrieved him & went to NASA. Mom didn't have much of a chance to even start to grieve for her dog who was her baby. When we got to the Centre there was this sweet, young teen girl working. She offered to give us some pointers on things we'd like to see & mom thanks her..then goes into how we'd just lost our dog, told her the story & started crying. At first she seemed a bit taken back. She gave her condolences tried to comfort her the best she could. This stood out for me because shortly after my mom's tears dried a co-worker (a teen boy) came up to the girl. He asked what was going on & the girl softly replied that our dog had died. The boy gave this look on his face like "Wtf why would you tell people you don't know shit like that you weirdos" it was kind of offensive & he just walked away. We ended up having an amazing time there doing the cool things that the girl had suggested. We had more fun than we probably would have without her. It helped keep our minds off the sadness we were about to return to when we left.

    That girl was a very special girl. She didn't have to even acknowledge my mom's outburst or she could have acted as the boy did. I still think of her from time to time and hope she's doing well in life. I still actually have the list of activities she gave us. I appreciate so much what she did for my mom that day.


  27. (..inued)(sorry this is such a long winded post...the blog brought back a lot of emotions in me! )

    I had my own chance to offer a bit of emotional support to a stranger over a year ago. My mom had to go to the hospital from pain that we thought might have been from pancreatic issues (her whackjob doc gave us this terrible fear that turned out to be unfounded). We spent 24hrs in that hell. I saw a lot of suffering before my mom actually was seen. In the time I had witness one woman come in from an ambulance ride. She had an exploded foot. I saw her have to walk to the cafe because she was there so long & needed food (how I wish i had known & could have done it for her) I saw her cry/suffer in pain alone. It broke my heart. When my mom was finally seen in the ER I went with her. When visiting hrs were over they kicked me out. I was livid & was storming out when I passed a woman in a hospital bed alone in the hallway. It was that woman. She stopped me,asked how my mom was. I told her what they were doing & that I was angry over how they treated her and the other horrors I saw in the ER(I won't go into details it was just super nonprofessional). She went on to tell me she had to her her leg amputated. She told me she was so frightened, a brand new grandmother &other things. She begged me to pray for her & told me her name..Tammy. I started crying, I agreed, I held her hand & I was there for a moment keeping her company all alone in the hospital hallway. I actually ended up kissing her on the forehead because I felt compelled to do so before I was emotionally unable to contain myself. I had to leave all the while praying heavily for her.

    I had no idea that she recognized me. I didn't even know that she saw me we were far enough apart from each other/never spoke before. I didn't even notice her as I was storming out but she saw me, recognized me, needed me. I was happy I could have given her a small comfort. I still think about her & I pray for her every time I do. I wonder if she still thinks about me but I know she left a huge mark on MY life. I hope I could have left a mark on hers.

    Just giving a few moments of our time to listen to someone who has had it rough can do sooo much for them/us for such a long time. It might not seem like it but that woman probably feels thankful that you listened to her. It let her know there's those out there who aren't mean and evil like her Ex and his girlfriend.

    If only just once in everyone's lives we could do that for someone we don't know maybe the would could be a better place. I know I try to be a kind shoulder for those who need my support even if I don't know them. I'm happy to see you're of the same mindset! You're a gem of a person, Michelle and I wish you all the successes of life. :)

  28. What an amazing life lesson you learned through her story. I think we all need to step back and realize the impact we have on eachother. It may be the relationship that we have had with a friend that has lasted 25+ years or it may be the person we are standing next to getting a coffee at circle K. Each encounter equally has the energy to transform someones path. It might be you that shows them enough love to move through a difficult moment that they didn't think they had enough in them to get through, as well as you might find yourself to be the one standing on the other side in need of the same.

    Take a deep breath and say thank you for the gift that she gave to you that day. And thank you for sharing that gift with the rest of us too. The awarness is breath taking.

  29. Congratulations for turning a difficult encounter into a wonderful exercise in humanity. We have all grown because of that.

    Your design creations are gorgeous as well

  30. I feel the need to say this again, this is a beautiful post! Truly!!!

    I can't say I have ever been broken but most definitely lonely. My husband is a combat wounded veteran with severe PTSD and he has had a rough time of it for years.

    We married two months before I graduated high school and the next day he left to go to Germany where he was stationed with the Army. I was finally able to join him over there in November of that year and the following February he deployed to Iraq for a year. While there he was injured twice, once by being crushed in a Bradley turret and the second was when a mortar went off near him and he has sustained schrapnel in the back of his head. So, with those and everything else he witnesses and dealt with over there he has had a rough time of it.

    Since his return and then later that year our return to the States, I have not really made any friends. All my past friends either stopped being my friend due to various reasons or time and space drifted us apart. So, for some years now I have stood by trying to help my husband through his alright, good, and worst days. It has been very stressful and emotionally draining, especially since not everyone understands because they don't know anything PTSD and how it effects people. I have had my own breakdowns and have cried many tears because of all the difficult times. I have done my absolute best to be loving, patient, and supportive to him as I can. Now with two small children in the mix, my days are pretty busy.

    I literally have to spend much of my time and energy staying strong for everyone else I often neglect my own breaks and time to re-energize. I call my poor mom and vent to her often and she is pretty supportive, but it still doesn't fill that gap of loneliness sometimes. I miss having a friend to poor my heart out to and laugh with and, well everything else that friends do for each other.

    The thing is since my life is filled to the brim with emotional stress, by the end of the day I am so tired and just too afraid to seek out a friendship. My husband has said that I would probably be a happier person if I had someone outside of the family to hang out with and unload my frustrations and forget my problems and...so forth.

    My point is I am probably like the lady you mentioned in your post. I have found myself starting to share my woes to people I come across, but then I always stop myself from divulging everything. I always feel silly and stupid when I try. So, I write a blog to let it out. That's what I have for now, even if only a few people read it and very rarely comment, it stills gives me a bit of release.

    ENough about me, I think it's awesome that you want to be there for more people! There should be more people with such kind hearted personalities like yours! I have always tried to be kind and friendly to others. I have always strived to give others a sympathetic ear or help when they are down on their luck. I may neglect myself in many ways, but I try to still be there for others, I always have been that way. So, hearing you talk about wanting to connect to others on an emotional and mental level as well as helping them look great, it really shows what a beautiful person you are inside! I know though we've never met in person your corsets alone have given me a boost in my self-esteem and confidence, I can only imagine how much greater that would be with a more personal connection!

    You are a wonderful individual Michelle and I am glad to know you even if it's only through the internet!

  31. I have to let you know my story. I've bought several of your corsets, knowing that a good corset goes a long way. Ive shared them with others, given them away, loaned them, and loved them. Your corsets, for about a year, helped me stay with my job at a deli. And then, your courage inspired me to take my creativity to the internet when times got bad.

    I'm now a professional artist, and I want to thank you for helping me realize what made me happy.

  32. Hi its me MOXIE!!
    I work with Michelle when she comes to California to do faires and I have seen this poor girl go through it.
    I have a schtick I do in her booth. As I prepare to lace a gal up I explain how great these corset are. Then as I wrap my arms around her to put the corset on I say "and the best thing about them is they come with a free hug". It does wonders for both of us and Michelle laughs at me.

  33. Michelle, this is what makes you and the ladies you work with different from any other company. Sometimes you rant and rave and have emotional tirades on your blog. Sometimes you post smoking hot pictures of yourself. And sometimes you lay bare the emotions we all sometimes suffer as women.

    You are honest and open and beautiful and fantastic. And it's posts like these, and all the others, that have kept me coming back to your Etsy and Artfire stores over and over.

    Well, that and the amazing corsets!

  34. ahhah, Moxie, I have such a blast with you that it shouldn't even be POSSIBLE!
    BazookaBobcat, every time I see your username, my heart does a happy dance of joy!

  35. Aaww man you guys all get to have fun and hang out with michelle, Hehe I am just being silly, I just wish that Perth would have awesome festivals like that, But being the most isolated capital in the world, why would you bother, no business xD I dunno, maybe people are just lazy? Oh well.. Perhaps ONE DAY!! when I win the lotto! (as if) I will go on holiday for some festivals and Meet ya'll ^^ buy lots of corsets till I am broke then somehow get back home hehehe. You make you most beautiful and comfortable corsets, I could almost sleep in them. Keep doing your best!


  36. I carry around so much baggage with me. Being a 425 lb woman I never _feel_ like a woman - I feel like a round cartoon character. Last year I did a custom order and when I finally tried it on I cried. When I wore it to the AZ Renn faire and I saw my reflection on the window of my jeep I cried. I've been going to ARF since 1994 and I have NEVER had such a great time. I felt feminine and beautiful. As the sun set on 80 degree weather in AZ I was a little miserable but then a lady of the court approached me to 1. compliment me on my garb 2. ask where I got it and 3. gave me information to audition to be a part of the faire cast vs. a paying patron. That was a great feeling.

    I was able to wear my garb for three weekends and every time I put it on, and every time someone complimented me, I felt like I was glowing. Honestly, it was the first time I felt like a sexy woman and not just some fat androgynous person. You have no idea how much your clothing changed my life, if even just for the weekends.

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