Finding hope in the dark, the mountains, and art

Hope in the dark

I’ve been writing and deleting, setting aside and picking up this post over the past few months, choking on rage as I did so. Every time I tried to return to it to make a coherent point about the political state of things there was more violence to account for, more things to make sense of. Tragedy after tragedy, hurt after hurt has been piling on. I spent most of my days feeling reactionary, emotionally frayed and deeply sad. I started to pick fights about things that did not matter.

I tried to craft a deeply angry but intellectually developed piece in response to the sexual violence women face as part of their daily lives after the Brock Turner case. Then in response to the brutal attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And then after police have took the lives of more Black people (again). And then after ongoing violent attacks by religious extremists all over the world.

Some of my friends on my social media feeds tried to stay positive, saying “Now is the time we can heal, now is the time we can address these injustices,” or, “At least all this ugliness is out in the open and taken more seriously as injustice.” And as communities who care about social justice we march, we cry, we grieve, we raise our voices, we nurture our communities, but the sheer helplessness I felt when seeing these acts of violence occur over and over rubbed like raw heartbreak.

I kept asking myself, “What will really make power budge? What will effect impactful change?” It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself, and my friends, and my teachers, and all those who are smarter and have lived fuller lives than me, for over twenty years.

In my teens and early twenties I had enough of an ego to think that by sheer force of will I could help change the world. I desperately wanted to see a world free of racism, sexism and homophobia, that had shaken off the vestiges of colonialism and imperialism. I still do. Of course I didn’t understand how long change takes, that it’s incremental and part of thousands of small steps. I also didn’t understand how reactionary and fearful those in power (even after I read all those post-colonial studies texts in college) can be and how they will hold on to what little power they have for as long as they can.

Twilight at azule

I was weighed down by my own hopelessness and found that I was practicing hopelessness as a defense against more heartbreak and disappointment. I thought that being hopeless would protect me, not realizing I had the luxury to be hopeless because it gave me a reason to hide behind my privilege as a white, upper middle class person.

And then I read this line, “Activism isn’t reliable. It isn’t fast. It isn’t direct either, most of the time, even though the term direct action is used for that confrontation in the streets, those encounters involving law breaking and civil disobedience.” Oh. Right.

Mountain view

These words were in “Hope in the Dark,” Rebecca Solnit’s book from 2005 (re-released this year). She goes on to make the case for hope as a more radical act than despair to read while I was on a solo trip in the California desert this winter. I didn’t get to it then. I finally started to read in August during a week-long artist’s residency held deep in the mountains of North Carolina. On the suggestion of my friend Elisa I signed up for the CAMP residency, a week long collaborative art and community-oriented project designed for artists who need time, space and to be around those of different disciplines and ideas to create their work.

Azule

This year CAMP was held at Azule, an incredible house designed by a visionary artist named Camille who imagined it as a healing, creative space, with a strong under current of social justice. It was exactly what I needed. After so much heaviness and stress having the time to re-find my own creative focus felt liberating. I spent the week writing, debating, thinking, dying cotton indigo and casting my fingers in plaster, hiking a section of the Appalachian trail, and scrambling barefoot down a steep muddy bank to a swimming hole, eating together meals prepared with local ingredients and a lot of panache and love. And reading.

Indigo dye

I usually read nonfiction with a pencil so I can underline the really good passages, but I failed to keep a pencil with me as I wandered around Azul picking corners on the deck or sagging arm chairs in the living room to flop down and read, so I just dogeared pages with passages that stood out to me.

But I actually set down my book and went in search of a pencil to underline this one, “Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later. An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears, if anyone hears you in the first place.”

Swimmin hole

Solnit illustrates, though her heady mix of history, personal story, and political analysis, that to have hope is a radical act. To keep to a far-sighted vision for change and have the audacity to believe it can happen can take decades or centuries. Or it can take a month, but when when change arrives, radical struggles to achieve it are mostly erased and those in power act like it has always been such. “Thought becomes action becomes the order of things, but no straight road takes you there.”

Trails

As I read I thought about how much the world has changed in the decade since she originally wrote this book (Obama had barely started his Presidential campaign, gay marriage was not legal just being two huge examples) and I started to think about activism and my role in social justice differently. I started to despair less. However, change does feel incremental and slow when injustices like police violence against communities of color and constant sexual violence against women and queer people are right there and so blatant.

I started to realize the power of being around art and artists, those who are critical and make work to disrupt the status quo, the power of being in a place explicitly created to foster discussion, possibility, community and change – in short, hope. I spent so much of my twenties proclaiming “Art is activism!” and trying to use art as a lens for transformation that I lost my own personal connection to it. It getting closer to art, in delving into my own practice and others, I started to connect with the idea of hope, and activism, again.

Eating dinner together

Having hope does not mean that injustice does not make me angry and reconnecting to my activist flame (as opposed to the very critical but very cynical attitude I have carried around lately) does not erase my privilege. In my rage I ask, how do we not give into exhaustion and despair and instead support each other knowing the struggle for justice is long, knowing that we will be discredited by mainstream power, but knowing that is is worth it for a more equitable world? How do we think productively about power and privilege and how we occupy them and act as allies to each other? These questions are rhetorical -we make our lives and a better world by the connections we build with each other while we explore them. We make our lives in trying out different answers. We make our lives knowing we have to be in this together and it’s up to us to figure out how things can be different.

Walking path

Solnit as a writer is always there to guide and remind me. In her words, “Resistance is usually portrayed as duty, but it can be a pleasure, an education, a revelation.”

Brooklyn Indie Guide: My bonnes addresses and favorite places in one app!

One of my favorite parts of living in Brooklyn is showing it off to visitors. While the idea of “Brooklyn” conjures up all sorts of images and ideas, one of the best parts of being a resident is being a great host to guests who are curious to learn more about the many diverse neighborhoods and cultures that make up this famous borough.

Brooklyn Indie Guide map

Map in the Brooklyn Indie Guide

Over the past six months I’ve been working on a very special project: The Brooklyn Indie Guide, a handy iPhone or Android app that highlights fifty of my favorite places around Brooklyn! This guide is part of the Indie Guides series, created by my friends Anne and Gary, who are based in Paris, France. These guides are available in French and English and focus on local culture and highlight independent, alternative, underground, and often overlooked or quirky places in cities around the world that other guide books rarely cover. Cities featured in other guides include Athens, Istanbul, Paris (which is free!), Montreal (which is also free!), Rotterdam and Tokyo, among others, and new guides are being released each month!

I was thrilled at the opportunity to share my favorite places in Brooklyn with a wider audience. I’ve been living in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for 13 of the 14 years I’ve been in New York City and watched the borough transform from a pretty awesome place that seemed a little out of the way to mainstream culture (and to many New Yorkers) to globally synonymous with “trend.” Some of the places in this guide are new additions to the borough, but many have been here much longer than I have.

Before I made the decision to move to New York City from Maine I worried about missing out on nature, space and a self-directed pace of life. One of my mentors reassured me, “You can live however you want in New York City.” As real estate prices have risen this goal has become a bit harder to achieve, but my hope with this guide was to highlight some of the many ways one can live in, and visit, Brooklyn.

The guides are all divided into five categories: Eat, Drink, Culture, Shop, and Go Out. Each of these categories features ten locations. In the guide you can search by category, tags, or on a map (and see what’s closest to you on the map!). In selecting each location I made an effort not only to pick places I, or my friends, love, but destinations that will take a visitor all around Brooklyn to interesting and vibrant neighborhoods that they may not otherwise visit, or enable them see another side of heavily touristed areas.

Listing in Brooklyn Indie Guide

The guide features everything from a neighborhood heavy metal bar, a feminist art gallery, an old-school Brooklyn clam bar, my favorite spot for pizza, a few hole-in-the-wall DIY rock clubs, a shop for vintage inspired punk-hipster beach wear, where to drink great cocktails, or coffee, and where to find the best oysters. There’s also plenty of record and book shops, performance venues, and dive bars to keep you busy. The app even includes a playlist, which is pretty darn cool if you ask me!

In a sense this project has been incubating since 2011, when I first met Indie Guides creators Anne and Gary at a show I played with our mutual friend Michel at Spike Hill (a sorely missed venue and bar in the heart of Williamsburg). They were impressed by a 4 page (!) list of things to check out in Brooklyn I had compiled for Michel. When they got the idea for the guides the other year they reached out to see if I’d like to write the Brooklyn guide and of course I agreed. I’m so pleased with the result, of my suggestions all wrapped up in an easily navigable interface, with a lot of cute illustrations to match! You can download the version for iPhone or Android version (in English or French) from the Indie Guides site!

A week in Eindhoven: Dutch Design Week, ADE and Onder de Leidingstraat

Dutch Evening #1

Famous Dutch light

It already seems like a lifetime ago, but just the other week I bolted to Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, to work at Dutch Design Week, celebrate the opening of a new Shapeways factory and start to understand just what’s so cool about Dutch culture. It had been 10 years since I was first in the Netherlands and the last time it was there it was January. I liked the country then, but it seemed small, quiet, damp and cold, though the architecture was beautiful and I liked how bikeable everything was and the cozy bars and cafes everywhere. This time I felt like I actually got a sense of the dynamism of Dutch culture, as well as the opportunity to live a few days in the life of a resident of Eindhoven.

Ruud and sandwiches!

Ruud, #1 Eindhoven host

Why Eindhoven? Well, Shapeways, the 3D printing service and marketplace where I work, was started there. We were incubated by Phillips and then became our own, independent company. The headquarters of the company moved to NYC in 2010, but there’s still an office and factory in Eindhoven and the company’s Dutch side has kept growing – growing so much we outgrew our factory and moved to a bigger one! I went over not only to celebrate the opening of the new Shapeways factory but to help set up and staff our booth at Dutch Design Week, the annual showcase of all that’s new and innovative in Dutch design that takes over Klokgebouw, a huge former Phillips factory in the Strijp-S area of Eindhoven. You can read more about my time at Dutch Design Week and the opening of the new Shapeways factory in my entries on the Shapeways blog, but here I wanted to share a little more about what I managed to discover about Eindhoven in the few moments I could step away from work.

Onder de Leidingstraat

Onder de Leidingstraat interior

I’d barely stepped off the train when Ruud, my colleague and guide extraordinaire, whisked me away from the station and put me to work setting up our booth for DDW. After he showed me a place that would become my home away from home in Eindhoven: Onder de Leidingstraat. It’s an organic cafe and market  that was conveniently located directly under my room in the Strijp-S area. Strijp-S is a former Phillips factory district that’s been remade into a community of loft apartments, design boutiques, start ups, coworking spaces, and cafes. It’s full of history as a location of Phillips’ inventions and innovations and still feels lively and fresh.

Onder de Leidingstraat counter

More Onder de Leidingstraat

Speaking of fresh, so was all the food at Onder de Leidingstraat, as well as the decor. Salads, soups, sandwiches, juices and pastries all are made fresh (as well as heavenly carrot cake) and they were probably the only reason I managed to eat remotely healthy on my trip. The staff were nice and welcoming and by my third day there they were already telling me, “See you tomorrow!” when I would leave the cafe. Right next to Onder de Leidingstraat is another culinary marvel: Intelligentia Ice, an ice cream parlor with flavors like white chocolate and rose water. I got a cone with peanut butter and cinnamon flavored ice cream and sat in ice cream reverie while I ate it.

Don't mind me, I'm just in ice cream heaven...

Itelligentia raises ice cream to an art in Eindhoven

Other Dutch cuisine treats: bar snacks. Specifically, bitterballen. Bitterballen are deep friend balls of gravy that you dip in a mustard mayonnaise sauce. Seriously, what else would you want to eat while drinking beer?

Sissy Boy Checkout

Sissy Boy – fashion, decor and even a cafe!

Eindhoven itself is an interesting town. Besides a few churches and factory buildings it was leveled in World War II and most of the architecture is quite new, though the layout of the town is traditionally Dutch, arrange around a town center of market squares and pedestrian streets with ring roads extending out.  I got a chance to sneak away from the intensity of the Dutch Design Week booth to wander around the town center and check out some of the intriguing shops. Let me just say this: Dutch shoes are amazing. I scored a pair of navy blue, heeled ankle boots. I also found a design and clothing store that offered minimal, dressed up clothes that seemed more mature than its oddly teenybopper name of Sissy Boy, where I procured a perfect grey sack-like dress (my favorite!) and a navy blazer made of out sweatshirt material (structured and comfortable!).

Sissy Boy

Women’s basics at Sissy Boy. Can I buy them all?

Guys, don't worry! I still was able to add to my wardrobe while working Dutch Design Week!

Dutch fashion treats

Ruud was the ultimate host. He’s also a DJ under the name Rudy Lime and manages to know everyone at every venue in town. We even managed to make a quick trip to Amsterdam (apparently too quick, as Ruud reported he got a speeding ticket on the way there) to catch some Deep House DJs performing as part of ADE, the annual electronic music festival in Amsterdam. I had no idea that DJs are one of the Netherlands biggest exports, but it was great to get a tiny taste of that scene. We also spent time chilling in Eindhoven at Cocktailbar Mundial, where Ruud also DJs regularly. As an aspiring cocktail connoisseur I was really happy with everything I had there.
Party time at ADE!

Eindhoven also boasts great museums and other great places to eat and shop, but I was go, go, go the whole time, but I’m glad I got to experience just a little taste of what the Dutch call “gezellig” or a cozy, welcoming feel. I certainly felt welcomed and, in a sense, even at home, during my week there.
Happy happy happy (in Eindhoven)I

I also made a little set on Flickr to capture the non-work photos that I managed to take.

 

And Still She Dreams of LA…

Lone palm + distant plane

A November weekend and a cheap plane ticket seemed like a good enough reason to visit LA, but add in a Torches show and an offer of a personalized tour of East Side neighborhoods I hadn’t yet explored? Sign me up! Here’s a budget tip for those wishing to travel to LA: Bob Hope Airport in Burbank: cheaper flights, less hassle, and that glamorous feeling of walking across the tarmac to your gate, with a beautiful view of the mountains just beyond.

Mountains beyond mountains (over Utah)

Desert mountains en route over Utah

Nice view Los Angeles!

View from The Hub, downtown LA

After I arrived I jumped right into the LA fun by meeting the wonderful ladies from the Academy for Handmade for lunch at LA son Roy Choi’s fast food rice bowl restaurant in Chinatown Chego! and then talked about their upcoming crowd funding campaign and exciting plans for their awards ceremony next year. They have a great space at The Hub, a really cool co-working and business incubator space in the Arts District in downtown LA (as an aside, my friend Sophia Stuart wrote a lovely piece on The Hub for LA I’m Yours).

Torches at the Echoplex

Torches play the Echoplex, November 8, 2013

Songs about cat castles and ouji boards... HOTT MT - great band!

HOTT MT at the Echoplex

Next we headed to drinks and dinner at Mohawk Bend, a local and seasonal inspired restaurant serving craft beers in Echo Park, followed by one of the best shows I’ve seen by Torches at the Echoplex. It’s been so amazing to watch this band steadily grow their career over the past year and a half. Their sound has grown bolder, but still anchored by catchy, jangle laden melodies and pensive lyrics. During some of the newer songs I felt my hairs standing on end. I hear they’re working on a new album, so I can’t wait for what is next for these enterprising musicians.  HOTT MT opened for them and they were a great discovery – songs about cat castles and ouji boards fronted by a very energetic singer who reminded me a bit of a female David Bowie!

Amazing Brunch at Cliff's Edge

Perfect brunch at Cliff’s Edge

Palms, palms and more palms!

The palms of Silver Lake

Saturday morning I joined my favorite music and fiction writer Liz Barker of the Strawberry Fields Whatever blog for a leisurely brunch in the lush back garden of the Cliff’s Edge, a super cute restaurant in Silver Lake with great “shabby chic” decor – I wish my apartment was decorated like that restaurant. Next I took a wander around the Silver Lake farmers market and picked up some handmade, soy, scented candles to remind me of LA back in cold Brooklyn.

At the “Eagle’s Nest” – Shakeytown Radio HQ

Then I joined my new (but very dear) zine friend Brodie Foster Hubbard for a customized tour of the East Side. We spent the afternoon sipping coffee and chatting about life and career choices before jumping in to recording an episode of his podcast “The Shakeytown Radio Hour.” I’m really happy with the results and invite you to listen in on us talking about pursing and building a DIY life, job and negotiating a creative lifestyle and career in uncertain economic times.

Craziest thing I've ever eaten... DIY doughnut! Thanks @brodiehubbard

Very excited about my DIY Donut at Donut Friend!

Brodie took me on a guided tour of Eastside neighborhoods that I hadn’t gotten a chance to see yet: Eagle Rock, Atwater Village and Highland Park. We stopped into Pop Hop, a great used, new and art book shop, and then headed to Donut Friend, a donut shop among LA donut shops if I’ve ever seen one. It’s owned by Mark Trombino, the drummer from Drive Like Jehu, and features vegan and gluten free options. There’s a variety of pre-made donut delights, all named after bands, and I had to stop myself from picking up a tshirt that says “Rites of Sprinkles” on it… on second though, I might mail order one… but Brodie and I both opted for the “DIY donut” option (of course!) and I ended up concocting one I called the “Northern Soul” – a chocolate cake donut with ricotta cheese and raspberry jam filling, with maple glaze and coconut bacon on top. I also deemed it the “Craziest thing I have ever eaten.” And it was delicious.

Took a beautiful Sunday hike in Malibu!

Hiking in Solstice Canyon

The next morning Brodie and I headed to the Freeways Collide zine event and picked up some great little zines about Joy Division, witchery and being a gemini from Deirdree, and then took a wander through the Hollywood farmers market. I was happy I got to finally check out this bonanza of fresh produce and street food and after filling up on ice coffee, pupusas and persimmons, I met up with my friend Kabir and headed towards Malibu for an afternoon hike. A Sunday drive to Malibu is practically an LA tradition for me now and I was glad that Kabir and Emily came with me to check out a new (to me) hiking spot: Solstice Canyon (there’s a great site for hikes in and around LA called Modern Hiker that my friend Phoebe pointed me to, very very helpful!). We hiked along the bottom of the canyon to the ruins of a mid-century ranch and then up the hill for sweeping views of the Pacific. It was perfect.

Pacific View from Solstice Canyon

The view of the Pacific from Solstice Canyon

Back in downtown LA I got to try a French dip sandwich at Cole’s, one of the two “original” French dip restaurants, which I loved for its dark wood bar and classic cocktails. Then Kabir and I went to our favorite spot for a Sunday night in LA, Mignon wine bar (just two doors down from Cole’s) for some great hand selected wine and artisanal cheese and the sweetest servers ever. The perfect end to another great LA weekend.

Downtown LA from Griffith Park

Hazy downtown LA from Griffith Park

I headed home on Monday, but first squeezed in a hike in Griffith Park to gaze dreamily at the downtown city scape and bake in the sun and then a coconut kale smoothie at Naturewell to round off the visit. It’s a good thing I got the sun and my vitamins in too. The next day, back in New York, it snowed. How’s that for some cognitive dissonance?

The Great American Road Trip Part 2: West Coast

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

My epic summer travels continued this month up and down the West Coast. After two weeks in the Midwest, the West Coast felt like familiar territory. I used to live in Portland, Oregon on-and-off between 2000 and 2004 and I’d recently visited Seattle and San Francisco. Unlike my Midwest adventures, I for this trip I relied more on public and mass transit to get around, except in Seattle and Olympia where your flexibility is limited by the public transit options and I find that in Seattle, like LA, people obsess over talking about traffic and parking.

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride "Banana Lightening"

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride “Banana Lightening”

While it has a reputation for being a rainy climate, the truth is, summer in the Northwest is glorious. Days are overall sunny with warm days that cool off at night. It’s the perfect temperature to dreamily drink an iced coffee, ride a bike leisurely around the city, meet your friends for a picnic in the park, or sip cocktails on the patio.

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Zinester mail from @nicolejgeorges xoxo!

Zine symposium mail from Nicole Georges!

The Portland Zine Symposium was a big reason why I chose to be in Portland when I did. It’s really amazing to see a project I helped start 13 years ago continue with such vigor and be taken up by a totally new team of people. I feel like that’s the exact legacy I hoped to create with the symposium and I’m so glad to see it worked out. It was also nice to return as a participant and not have the stress of an organizer.  However, much of Portland reminded me of that heady time in my early 20s when I lived there. I would be biking along a street on my borrowed, bright yellow, vintage folding bike named “Banana Lightening” aka “Banana Question,” and remember a feeling I had in that same place over ten years ago. I felt amazed that I had grown up, but still half way convinced that I was going to encounter my 22-year-old self around any given corner.

I love Olympia!

I love Olympia!

I felt a similar feeling in Olympia, where I hadn’t spent too much time since attending the Yo Yo A Go Go music festival in 1999 when I was 18. Then I was a giddy teenager fresh out of my small town. There I saw acts like Elliot Smith, Quasi and the Need play the historic Capitol Theater and spent time blissfully sleeping on a motel floor with four other indie rock fans and meeting up with my zine pen pals from all over the country.

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Olympia now has a strange, sleepy vibe, though it is still home to a very dedicated creative community. The staples I remember like Dumpster Values thrift store, Rainy Day Records, and K Records homebase, are still there, though they have moved. There’s plenty of new, cool places, like the Northern for all ages shows (and good coffee in the morning from a coffee bar called Bar Francis) and Quality Burrito for delicious tacos and cocktails. One of my favorite places to re-visit was The Reef – greasy spoon diner in front, dive bar in back, where the bar tender played KARP on the jukebox in an evening that felt perfectly fitting for Olympia past and present.

An Olympia classic

An Olympia classic

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

My last day in Washington State got a little cloudy, so it was quite a big change when I hopped an Alaska Airlines flight down to hot, sunny and flat Sacramento. It was my fifth time in California in the past year and it felt great to be back in the Golden State. I got to learn about the growing creative community in California’s capitol and present at the sweetest nonprofit, Hello XOXO, a new space dedicated to fostering women’s creativity and entrepreneurship.

Hello XOXO - a nonprofit fostering women's creative community in Sacramento, CA
Hello XOXO – a nonprofit fostering women’s creative community in Sacramento, CA
Decor love at Hello XOXO

Decor love at Hello XOXO

I wasn’t long in Sacramento though, and after just a quick afternoon and evening I headed to Berkeley to browse the selection at Amoeba records, and meet up with my favorite California boys, Torches, who were touring up the West Coast while I was headed down. It was great to compare road notes over sandwiches and mimosas and think about how much we have all grown creatively since meeting about a year and a bit ago.

Tour highlight: lunch with these rock stars @torches_music

Lunch with Torches, also on tour, in Berkeley

After sending the boys off I took the BART into San Francisco, my last tour stop. I love how San Francisco’s hills rise up over the bay, how the fog blows across it in strange wisps, and how the pastel buildings tile up its impossibly steep slopes. That said, by the time I reached San Francisco I was feeling a little tired. I was ready to go home.

Brunch seriousness

French “Soul Food” brunch in San Francisco!

Fortunately, if you’ve got a friend in San Francisco, they usually know what you need. In this case, Amy took me to Brenda’s, an amazing French Soul Food influenced brunch joint, and then bought a bottle of champagne that we drank out of plastic cups in a park full of palm trees, lavender plants and cute dogs. It was the perfect end to my travels.

Champagne in the park in the 3-D Nickey Hayden glass

Last day of tour and living the San Francisco park life

Seeing new places, returning to places I love and meeting up with people I love in these places, is one of the most life affirming things one can do, in my opinion. At the same time, I’m happy to have a solid home base in Brooklyn, a place where I can nurture my own creativity and reach out to the world from. Being on tour especially means being on almost every waking minute. It means putting your best foot forward always and being open to possibility and risk while getting what you need to do accomplished. My summer was hardly relaxing or carefree, but it was a hugely absorbing journey that’s left me so grateful for the opportunity I was able to create to talk about my passions and projects and remember what’s valuable to me: community, connection, and creativity. And it’s through that kind of risk taking that we learn and grow.

Who Dares Wins

My new motto on the wall of the Makeshift Society

The Great American Road Trip Part 1: Midwest

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

“Killerfemme, where have you been this summer?” “Where haven’t I been?” I think, at this point. I’ve spent the past three months visiting 17 states and 23 different cities on a book tour to connect with DIY and handmade business owners to promote my first book Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! Besides getting to meet rad creative people all over the country, I’m really grateful that Grow gave me a reason to travel to places I hadn’t been since 2002, the last time I took a cross country road trip, like Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. It also took me to places I’d never been before (and hope to go back to) like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

In front of Mickey's Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota

In front of Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota. Open 24 hours a day for nearly 70 years!

The lure of the open road has been immortalized in American literature and culture, with John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac being some of the most prominent. Of course, as an angst ridden teenager I was deeply influenced by the later and wrote a whole faux road trip novel at age 15 having barely left Maine or and only visited New York City once. This summer I was really excited to set out in mid-July to “middle America,” or “fly over country” as it is so dismissively called by some ignorant coastal souls. This trip was hardly a drug-fueled whim like those of my beatnik brothers (are you kidding? I was driving! I hardly had a drink!), but a journey with the explicit purpose of promoting Grow. I wrote about what I learned about DIY and craft business on the Grow blog, but of course, one can’t work 24/7. So here I wanted to share some more personal images from the lovely places I visited.

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

One of the best parts of the trip was the opportunity to connect with friends I had met through publishing zines and the underground, punk community over a decade ago. Some of them I had figured I’d never see again, but instead, here they were, living full, beautiful, inspiring lives. For me, seeing these women again showed me why the concept of DIY has remained so compelling: when you are committed to making something, adding value to your community, and forging a genuine connection with other creatives, those relationships last.

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby's in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby’s in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

I shouldn’t have to say it, but the Midwest suffers a bad wrap from those on the coasts, even though so many people living here are from there. It’s a diverse place and full of history. It contains key locations along the Underground Railroad (don’t think that walking across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio didn’t give me chills), to battles fought in “Indian Country”  over questions of slavery versus freedom and Native sovereignty in Kansas and Oklahoma, to current events, as Detroit declared bankruptcy just days after I visited (it’s not my fault!).

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Midwest is also breathtakingly beautiful. Though it may not boast the drama of the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Coast, it has a sky that stretches on forever, rolling green fields, and dusty roads that scream, “Take an adventure, America!” While I am a reluctant American, spending two weeks in the Midwest reminded me that I am very much of this country. I appreciate the pioneering and the “Can do, make to” spirit of the people I met in my travels.

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Also, breaking news: Brooklyn, NY and Portland, OR are no longer so original or special. Do you think I had to give up fair trade, cold brew coffee or organic, local produce while I was on the road? Quite the opposite! Cities and small towns all over the US are bursting with local goodness and it’s exciting to feel like “local flavor” actually means something again.

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

However, I also found myself enjoying some mass produced pleasures, like the fact that you can get 20 different kinds of iced tea for under $2 at a “gourmet” gas station like Quik Trip (thought I just got black, unsweetened tea). I mean, thank you, America, this iced tea kept me awake through some long drives and was delicious to boot. So, if you ever think, “Should I visit Tulsa? Or Omaha?” the answer is emphatically,
“Yes!”

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

Main Street Sheridan, Sunday Morning

Trail Hotel

Sometimes a place strikes you. The architecture. The quality of the light. The collection of buildings that are more than the sum of their parts. Early Sunday morning in Sheridan, Wyoming my uncle (who is an accomplished photographer) and I took a walk down Main Street to capture the signs and buildings that had captured our attention and imagination throughout our days there. The morning light and sky gives the photos a dusty, timeless quality, but if you look closely you can see that this place is firmly rooted in the present: new shops selling fancy Western Wear mixed in with shuttered, empty storefronts; a renovated theatre and faded painted signs and bricks. I think that we have a tendency to fix smaller towns in our minds as places that are “removed” from the march of time. However, I think these places that make up “Main Street USA” are where our culture and economy are lived, felt and experienced on a human scale and a day-to-day level.
Rainbow Bar

Boot Liquidation

Sorry We're Closed

Western Windows

Parking in Rear

Mint Bar

Hotel Rex

There’s more Wyoming views on Flickr.