If you follow me elsewhere on the web, you’ve probably seen an uptick in posts about something called the Boat Gnome Mercantile Trading Program. Maybe it makes sense, maybe it doesn’t, so here’s a big ol’ post with some background about this zany undertaking and how you can play along.
If you just can’t wait to exchange goods with the Boat Gnome (even if you are, perhaps, a little unclear about what that entails), the Trade-by-Mail Program is already open to Patrons at any pledge level. You can find all the instructions for sending trades through the mail by becoming a Patron and visiting this post.
The Boat Gnome’s desired items for the 2019-2020 Trading Season are as follows:
- An interesting shell (level of interest is in the eye of the beholder)
- A piece of seaglass (bonus points for unusual colors)
- A transcription of your favorite nautical poem (typed or hand-written, as preferred)
- A knot (tied in a piece of string, twine, rope, etc and labelled by name)
Okay, let’s back up and talk about Shing Yin Khor.
Shing is an unstoppable, mischievous force for good in the world. Aside from creating immersive installation art and fabulous comics and unconventional fundraising initiatives and co-facilitating life-changing retreats, they also run something called the Space Gnome Mercantile Trading Program.
The story goes like this: there is a gnome—a Space Gnome—who runs a trading outpost in outer space. She releases a list of desirable items prior to sending one of her representatives to conventions around the country. The desirable items are often simple. A nice rock. A cutting from a succulent. A poem. A story.
Traders may present the representative with one of these objects and receive, in exchange, a limited edition enamel pin.
Once a participant has made a trade and received a pin they become a Trusted Trader, and can return to the representative at future events (wearing their pin) and receive additional, special items. Shing also runs a trade-by-mail program exclusively for their Patreon supporters (DID I MENTION YOU CAN SUPPORT SHING ON PATREON?) in case folks can’t make it out to conventions.
I love this project. It’s subversive and human and playful and kind. So when Shing and I were on a ferry coming back from the Wayward Retreat this summer, I screwed up my courage and said:
“Do you think there might be other gnomes? I mean, hypothetically, what if there was also, say…a Boat Gnome?”
I felt self-conscious even asking. Why can’t I come up with my own ideas? Isn’t this plagiarism? But the beauty of this project lies in the fact that it’s not commercial in the slightest. Nobody’s making a profit. It’s a sandbox—a container for play, and as if to prove it Shing immediately shot up off the bench and shouted “YES!!!”
One month later they showed up in the front yard of childhood home in California (long story) and officially inducted me into the Association of Gnomes—a process I can’t recount here, so you’ll just have to flip through this Instagram Story really quick to experience it.
Armed with my gnome hat, I started drafting ideas. Since Shing had already come up with a format for the pins and cards, I decided to keep things simple and just riff on the existing material.
So here’s our Boat Gnome. (Perhaps suspiciously like a smaller version of me, but WHO’S KEEPING SCORE.) I translated this small friend onto a postcard that would mimic Shing’s space-themed offering with a load of nautical motifs.
And then came the PINS, which I wanted to match to Shing’s design so that enterprising traders could line them up in a handsome row on a lapel.
Once I had all my elements assembled, it was time to number all the backing cards and start assembling pins. The final result looks amazing.
The great thing about doing a project that won’t make me any money is that a lot of the perfectionism that usually dogs my steps during production is just…gone. Who cares if this isn’t utterly perfect? It’s a game. People are going to play.
I’ve spent a little over $500 assembling the materials for this project, which would’ve felt impossible three years ago. But I’m finally at a place in my career where not every expense has to turn a profit. There’s so much heart-felt fun to be had exchanging gifts with strangers and friends. And because of the support I receive on Patreon, I can do these kinds of projects. It’s such a wonderful privilege. I’ve already completed over 40 trades with people from all over the country, and the offerings are universally stellar.
So thanks. I can’t wait to trade with you all.
(Boat Gnome Representative)