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

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High-Style Hand Knit Woolens

Gaptastic infinity scarf hand knit by me!

I know, I know I wait until winter is on its last legs to share some wooly goodness with you. But rest assured, if you leave anywhere vaguely North the March winds are just as chilling as any other winter weather, so you still have a good few weeks to swaddle yourself in wool to keep warm. This year marks my return to knitting after a five year break. While my mother is a knitting expert, and I have an archive of one-of-a-kind sweaters she has made me since I was a little girl, I am a slow and imprecise knitter. I love making things, but I’ve never been able to retain knowledge about how to knit from one project to another.

However, for the second winter in a row I was seeing huge, soft, infinity scarves that engulfed their wearers in warmth and style and I wanted one. In December saw a grey, silky wool cowl at one of my favorite boutiques NOS in DUMBO, but when I inched in to look at the price I balked and declared, “I could make that!”

Another piece of wool I’ve been wanting to add to my collection is the perfect cable knit sweater. I reached out to my mother and asked if I might be able to commission such a sweater from her. In a beautiful marriage of technology and craft I put together a Pinterest board to share my cable knit ideas with her and she found a variety of patterns on Ravelry, a pattern sharing and social networking site for yarn crafters, for me to look at. Together we found the perfect pattern, which was in a book she ordered from Amazon! Ahh, the modern world.

Skeins of Bel Aire yarn for the scarf

While I was home for the holidays my Mom and I went yarn shopping and after considering various organic yarns for my sweater I wandered around the yarn shop, Grace Robinson in Freeport, Maine, and found the perfect yarn for the cowl of my dreams. It was thick and soft, like petting a cat or grabbing a handful of clouds, if clouds were warm. It was 100 percent Merino wool by Bel Aire and the color was poetically named “Philly Fog.” I bought 3 skeins. I admit I had the yarn before the pattern, but my mom found me the perfect pattern on Ravelry, the Gaptastic Cowl. As a note, the yarn I used was a big bigger than the yard suggested for the pattern, so my scarf is even chunkier than the one in this pattern.

Crackers the cat helped me wind the skeins into balls of yarn

I had to get a little help from LJ to remember how to cast on and encouragement from Sabine, but I actually remembered how to knit pretty easily and didn’t even need a lesson to remember how to pearl!

Knitting lesson from LJ at Cake Shop, New Years Day

Of course my mother, champion knitter that she is, finished an entire sweater before I finished my scarf, but by mid-February I have been able to wear my two new high-fashion, handmade woolens – my lovely cable knit, organic, Oatmeal colored sweater made by my mother, and my voluminous grey cowl, made by me!

My beautiful mom-made cable knit sweater with a thrifted, handmade shirt, Mavi jeans and Swedish Hasbeens boots

Interview with Impractical Labor in the Service of the Speculative Arts on NYFA Current!

The ILSSA Reference Reports, a component of the ILSSA Quarterly, are an ever-growing and collaboratively generated annotated list of resources relevant to ILSSA members. The group's founders call the Reports “our analogue Internet.”

Impractical who? Speculative what? What is she on about? If you love bookbinding, zines, letterpress printing, type writers, old Polaroid cameras, and any and all things that have to do with obsolete technology, you will love this project. Impractical Labor in the Service of the Speculative Arts was started by Bridget Elmer and Emily Larned, two artists who are letterpress printers and bookmakers that I greatly admire. It was Emily who suggested I intern at Booklyn, a Brooklyn-based book artists alliance, my first internship in New York. I also worked in Emily’s studio all through college, binding books, scoring and folding CD covers, and sorting type, in exchange for the use of her beautiful Vandercook press and lovingly homemade lunches. It was this kind of impractical labor, and Emily’s inspiring example of how to do it, that made me think very carefully and clearly about what it meant to be an artist and how one builds an artist’s life and balances their life and work.

Set letterpress type for the ILSSA leaflet, What is craft and why does it matter?, included as part of an ILSSA Research Quarterly.

Bridget and Emily’s project/organization is a membership organization that borrows from ideas of a labor union and a research institute and a performance project all rolled into one. I was very flattered to interview them for NYFA Current and I hope you will read the full interview here about their activities.