The Summer I Bought New Pencils

The experience of putting hand to paper stimulates an entirely different writing experience for me. Back in 2016, I found this to be true as I started writing long hand at times to break through the long, dreadful periods of staring at the glow of my expectant laptop. I’m not sure why, but it took me until mid-2017 to go out and buy a pack of brand new pencils for the first time in… more years than I care to admit.

Suffice it to say, the selection these days is pretty limited. But the pack of black, No. 2 Triconderogas has served me well. I should’ve done this years ago: as a lefty, I’ve spent almost my entire life accumulating enough ink blots on my writing hand to make an entire book of Rorschach tests. But, in the maelstrom of our WiFi-enabled way of life, I still forget to just sit, think, and write what comes to mind. Going right to the keyboard just makes more sense, in terms of efficiency, but it never feels as second nature as pencil to paper.

My handwritten notes indicate that I bought the pencils right before Memorial Day, at the beginning of a summer that I’ll remember for two unforgettable events. For different reasons, I’m still trying to comprehend them both.

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1984

By way of explanation: I’ve more or less ignored this blog for nearly two years. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it, beaten myself up for not writing something, or come close to posting something. I do have a good reason though. Since mid-2015 I have traveled across the country, interviewed more than 30 people, spent hours searching hundreds of papers in library archives, and written the beginning of a book that will tell the intimate life story of the late journalist Randy Shilts. So yes, I’ve been busy. But I’m also irritated that I haven’t written more of these posts along the way. So, I’m keeping a notebook now, and I even bought pencils and a sharpener. Old school! It feels genuinely good to write long-hand again. I recommend it for anyone who gets bogged down in word processing and the unending stream of social media ejaculations. (I’m using that word correctly. Look it up.) Below is the first of my scribbles.

I’ve thought a lot in the past day about 1984. The 1984 that I knew – through the eyes of a seven-year-old – involved dirt roads, dirt bikes, sheep pastures, teenage sisters, Reagan-Mondale, the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, and (unbeknownst to my parents) an underlying sexual confusion that would take another decade to reconcile. I can’t say for sure that these were happy times. The fights between my parents and oldest sister would certainly hint at a more complicated, stress-inducing dynamic. But that’s nothing compared to what came into focus today about Randy’s 1984: the headlines from the frontline of a battle, fraught with disease, deaths, false or misleading hopes, cynical political calculations, and misplaced self-interests.

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Classic Holiday Movie Post #1

Seems like a good time to repost this. We actually re-watched this movie a couple weeks ago when the first winter storm hit. I remember I used to laugh at this depiction of Minnesota in November– snowbanks and ice fishing before Thanksgiving?? Right!!

Jaxon and I have a collection of old movies (mostly VHS) that we always dust off and watch during the holiday season. So far we’ve made it through two of them. I’ll post a classic clip each time we see another one. Got any seasonal favorites of your own? Feel free to make suggestions!

Classic Holiday Movie #1: Grumpy Old Men (1993)

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Finding Randy, Part 3

There is so much to say about my time in California last month, and I’ve had so little time and energy to say it. I meant to get to this post sooner, perhaps even while I was out in San Francisco, getting intimately familiar with boxes and boxes of Randy Shilts’ personal papers. Sometimes life doesn’t work that way though, and a return to Minnesota has meant for me a return to dissertation, research, and teaching (not to mention cold weather and snow, up until the end of last week).

I thought about writing about some of the juicy tidbits I found, and there were a number of them. But, right now the more meaningful experience comes from trying to understand how it feels to get to know a person I will never meet. Reading a person’s diaries and correspondences in his own handwriting is an incredibly intimate experience. The moments of loneliness, self-doubt, and frustration from his college years and early adulthood are plentiful. While it’s perhaps easy to write it off as the anxieties so many of us feel in our youth, here too I found moments of insight and poignancy that resonated across the years of his too-brief life.

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Finding Randy, Part 2

I’m not intending this discovery process to become the sole focus of the blog, but when I’m writing about things that interest me (and are interesting in my life), well, right now this is at the top of my list (dissertation notwithstanding).  San Francisco and Randy’s papers are less than a week away, but in the meantime, I’ve been continuing to catalog his early work in The Advocate. There are so many details to pore over that I’m just skimming the surface as I take pictures and make notes for later study. But, here are a few interesting things I have found so far:

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Places Like This Do Exist

To get myself back in the habit of writing, I’m using the next few entries to write about some meaningful moments of the last few months. I find that it’s easy to lose track over time of the events and encounters that make a season memorable. They tend to blend in easily with past years, with autumns that came and went, and with other seasons that start to look alike over time. I don’t want that to be the case, so, appropriately, the first recollection I am writing takes me back to Labor Day weekend, when it started to feel like the seasons really were about to turn. Keep in mind, these are brief reflections– not too deep, not too long. 

In 2013, I made my first-ever trip north for Duluth – Superior GLBT Pride. I’d heard good things for years from others: a strong sense of community and togetherness, spirited but not massive crowds, beautiful sights, and generally speaking, a combination of “small city” and “queer” that maybe gets lost in the glitzy overproduction of so many major metropolitan Pride festivals these days. I had been curious for years, and I finally had the opportunity to make the trip with some friends.

All of what I’d expected was there, but the striking memory for me is still one event: the Friday night bonfire on Lake Superior. I grew up in a Great Lakes state, not far from one of the major bodies of water. Earlier this summer I even had a chance to revisit some of those places, which evoked a mixture of memories on which I still chew six months later. I remember scenes like this from my youth—dark nights where suddenly a hot, fiery glow rises up from the woods and dunes, illuminating a glassy background where cool waves slosh against the beach; a sizeable but not huge crowd gathered around the flames, some on towels and others huddled in beach blankets, with coolers packed with beer scattered across the sand; easy conversation between friends; and the occasional chitchat offered up to strangers like me, a city dweller who remembers these scenes vividly from twenty-some years ago, but who never quite felt like there was a place for me in small town settings.

But here, the fact that it was a Pride event, populated with boyfriends, girlfriends, old, young, partnered, and single, made that life seem so easygoing for at least one night. A young, twinkish type stripped down to his yellow bikini briefs and, after insisting he was going to swim, put his bravado out for all to see and showed he meant it. He shivered as he warmed himself afterward in front of the fire, his proportions nicely featured by the bikini now soaked to the skin. He took his time, and clearly no one minded. It was a dark and clear night, not too cool but not the heat of summer anymore. It was an easy visit, a moment I found myself pondering all weekend as I took in the celebrations of a town where I do not live.

Photo by Nick Vasquez

Photo by Nick Vasquez

The Gen X Conversation

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to understand the social systems we create. After an adolescence spent trying badly to fit into the peer groups around me (and failing), I found a particularly meaningful role for myself by embracing my “outsiderness,” even as I became part of the burgeoning queer activist circles at Michigan State University, and later in Minneapolis. My abilities as a writer, thinker, and charismatic leader have served me well at times within existing paradigms, but really I have been at my best when creating new pathways, bringing together people who have felt marginalized in their own experiences and developing interesting ways to depict and respond to the world around us.

I start with that brief intro because I’ve been sitting for about a week on writing a response to this recent article by Sara Scribner on Salon.com. There are parts that resonate with me, and parts where, as a younger but fiercely proud member of Generation X, I can’t help but push back. I don’t disagree that we collectively may appear more distrustful of authority figures and reluctant to “step up” and lead as the Baby Boomers edge closer to senior citizenship. But, I also think there are important counters to consider. I’m not in a position to generalize, but let me offer some of my own experiences as examples.

Systems Include, Systems Exclude

My first counter is this: I agree with the author that there are good reasons to think we may be distrustful of authority figures because of how Gen Xers experienced divorce, scandals, media, etc. in our formative years. I find, however, that I am more distrustful of the systems that authority figures are expected to maintain, usually because it doesn’t take long to discover those who have been excluded versus those who are accepted within these social environments. My childhood, for example, was filled with moments where success in school undoubtedly brought me praise and acceptance by authority figures (my parents were teachers, so my teachers were their friends), but also led to some painful ostracism from kids my own age. Throw into it the fact that I was a heavier kid, a farm kid, and an exuberant sci-fi fan (Doctor Who and Star Trek!), and it’s safe to say I didn’t have many friends my own age.

I offer this not as a way to pity my socially awkward years, but to illustrate that for a kid like me, the existing social systems didn’t offer much in the way of understanding or empathy. Life was in many ways a struggle to “fit in,” which often involved enormous self-scrutiny in order to not attract any more negative attention than I already received from kids my own age. My mistrust of authority figures came less from my witnessing their own personal failures, and more from the fact that I viewed them as maintaining and often safeguarding social systems that had been created with a certain set of people in mind, but did not well serve those who didn’t fit in.

Systems Are Meant to Address Gaps

This leads in part to my second counter. By the time I arrived at Michigan State in the mid-1990s, I had come out and found my first small group of gay friends. My social circumstances had flipped from rural isolated white kid, to urban gay teen whose friends were mainly young, gay, and black. It had been, in a word, tremendous, and the acceptance I experienced at MSU came in part, I think, from the incredible amount of enthusiasm and confidence I was now sharing with those around me. The existing queer activist community had a lot to offer in terms of discussion groups and social events, but it was the lack of a shared creative outlet—a common medium for discourse around our identity. The magazine I co-founded was a success in part, I think, from our ability to offer safe space for people to write, draw, and think about their “otherness.” We touched a nerve that encouraged those who resonated to contribute in kind. Although for me personally, the experience paved the way for other future endeavors, for the community at MSU I believe the magazine played a key role in helping queer students connect to each other in that campus’ vast residence hall system, which supported the development of new channels of activism (neighborhood caucuses) that continue to the present day. Let me say that again—a new endeavor, based on the observation of what was missing in the current system of supports, contributed to the creation of new and different supports for queer students on the MSU campus.

Maintaining Openness = Not Achieving Adulthood??

My third counter comes from my experiences in community-level social work. I have never held a social work license, and I have never practiced therapy. But, my skill has always been the ability to look at the systems we create to help each other—and specifically for me, in queer-focused community building—and scrutinize the extent to which these approaches succeed, as well as how they inevitably function to keep certain people out.  Being able to connect with folks in organizing HIV prevention activities and later managing a large volunteer program taught me that to connect with a range of people—not just those who fit the exact description of what we’re seeking—I  had to maintain an open and affirming stance that helped me to relate to each person on his or her own terms. Not surprisingly, I found that this approach has helped me as a college instructor because I have to remember that each of my students is applying the coursework differently according to the work they are doing in their own lives. Without a doubt I still have to maintain a rigorous standard but as a student told me last year, “Wow, you are really tough but you are so laid back! You are right there with us the whole time.”

Now, true to my own Gen X leanings, I have no idea what I want my life to be like after I finish my Ph.D. The idea of focusing on one narrow but potentially lucrative career path and abandoning the many varied interests that have made me a well-rounded person feels like cutting off my fingers in order to showcase my nose. Where Scribner quotes Neil Howe as saying, “In order to mature and become an adult, you have to shut off options,” my rejoinder is that to be a fully actualized, wholly developed human, we must each take into account the aggregation of all our attributes and bring them to bear in our home, work, and social lives.

My experiences so far as an activist, organizer, writer, scholar, and thinker tell me that despite my lack of credentials as a leader in any one field, I have brought about change that others notice when they consider their own choices in life moving forward. How these contributions are recognized is fairly muted, but as I have often said, I’d rather be well known than famous. Too often, I have witnessed people who were mentors to me—the majority of them Baby Boomers—who accepted the notion that success in life comes from narrowing options and becoming increasingly single-minded. In very few instances have I seen these mentors sustain either individual happiness or professional effectiveness for the long haul. Rather, I have found people coasting on their previous accomplishments as others tried sympathetically not to upset them, and I have seen people hit their “red Ferrari” years and lash out pointedly at the families and jobs that have expected them to carry significant burdens for long periods. Scribner’s article seems to suggest that for Generation X, the midlife crisis represents a mere continuation of the myriad crises we have experienced since childhood. Perhaps it’s not such a stretch to imagine, then, that we may also possess an incredible capacity for coping that renders midlife more manageable and less visibly disruptive than what came to characterize (or even caricature) the generations before us.

Reading Between the Lines 

I offer these counters not to disprove what Scribner wrote about Generation X, but to challenge her and those she cited to read between the lines. If the popular question is to ask, “When will Gen Xers grow up?” I suggest that a number of us already did so, at a younger age and in a way that escaped notice in the popular culture because it involved seeking out and recognizing commonalities with people who had similarly experienced “otherness.” Some of us faced adversity early in life, learned from these struggles, and adopted a perspective that values this “otherness” as a way of changing our culture, less by engaging with existing political and social systems that we’ve experienced as exclusionary and self-perpetuating, and more by engaging with the people we find where genuine, mutually beneficial work can occur.

Maintaining the stance of the empathetic outsider has helped me to help others, both as individuals and as creators and maintainers of their own social systems. Scribner makes a point in her summation that, “If we’re going to make the country a better place, more suited to our values, we need to do it ourselves.” To the extent that I agree, I also think it is fair to ask, do we now “become” leaders by inheriting the roles left to us by Baby Boomers, who continue to linger in the systems they built (and which we may have experienced as exclusionary and reductionist)? My perception is that instead of following this more obvious approach, a number of us have shifted the focus of our leadership in scale and scope—forming our own self-selected families, affinity-based collectives, and/or urban tribes– so that, as we grow and change throughout the next phase of our lives, we continue to learn and draw strength from the crises that defined our formative years.

The Mid-Summer Reboot

The last time I wrote an entry for the blog, we were in the middle of what seemed like an endless winter. I was writing the specialized paper that would eventually form a major chunk of my dissertation proposal. With the support of my chiropractor, new doctor, and partner, I was starting the hard work of losing what now stands at about 45 pounds of weight through dietary changes and building strength. I was balancing a number of teaching obligations with writing grant proposals on the side, and taking my final elective as a graduate student (ever!). In other words, things got busy.

It’s now mid-summer, and even though we had high heat last week, it already feels to me like August, with the warmth tempered by cooler breezes as I sit working on our porch. Regrettably, the heavy amounts of academic and professional writing have kept me from diving into the more reflective thinking I like to do when I blog. I passed my orals and defended my dissertation proposal in mid-May, finished teaching my summer course earlier this month, and took a rare weeklong vacation in northern Michigan that may inspire a few posts in the coming weeks. But—it took a while to recharge the batteries, and since I should be starting my data analysis soon for the dissertation, I’m not sure how often I will feel like doing my own reflective writing in the coming months.

Still, this space feels important to me, important enough to update now so that I can at least remind myself of the space provided here for conversation (even if it’s mainly with myself). I have a few topics I want to explore, hopefully in the weeks ahead:

– A queer agenda beyond same-sex marriage (and how there has always been one)

– Mentors, protégés, and Doctor Who

– Striking a balance between quality of life and the need to reinvent my career every 4 or 5 years

– Etc.

We’ll see how I do with keeping this up.

Beyond the Formal Work

I haven’t written a posting for a while because I spent most of January writing my next pre-dissertation special topic paper. Also, I’m taking a course in the use of storytelling to support research. We have a number of interesting assignments, so to keep the good times rolling on here I am going to publish the stories I come across, as long as I have my interviewees’ permission. The first one today is from an assignment where we were asked to collect three stories from family or a group of friends. I chose to get together with a small group of close friends who started off as volunteers with me in my former job.

Prior to starting my Ph.D., I spent several years employed with a community-based HIV/AIDS organization. I stayed with the organization for almost eight years because much of my work involved organizing volunteers from the community, who annually donated several thousand hours of their time to support the organization’s efforts. For five years, I was responsible for recruiting, training, and supervising volunteers for our largest fundraiser, a 10k walk in Minneapolis that required the help of up to 500 people on the day of the event. Because of the high stress and long hours of planning involved, I grew close to a small number of “Captains,” the volunteer leaders who guided our production timeline in the months leading up to each annual AIDS Walk. Upon leaving the organization, I found that my friendships with these individuals grew quite close, and we often see each other for holidays, parties, and other meaningful occasions. Because we all share a common experience from different vantage points, and because we continue to stay close with each other, I wanted to use this opportunity to learn more about how we remembered our work together, along with what made us specifically feel the desire to continuing onward as friends. How did we come to prioritize friendship with each other, compared to others who may have been similarly involved in running the AIDS Walk?

To explore this topic more fully, three people– Sara, Elizabeth, and Coco—joined my partner Jaxon and myself at the Longfellow Grill, where we talked over food and drinks.

How did you come to be involved with the AIDS Walk?

Elizabeth. The AIDS Walk volunteer experience for Elizabeth began quite suddenly when she received a phone call one year from her friend Nathan (unable to attend), saying, “I need your help tomorrow!” The next day she arrived at 5:30 in the morning, where she was thrown into the mix because Nathan trusted her to get work done in a fast-paced, somewhat chaotic environment. The next year, Elizabeth was made a Captain, although does not recall being asked. Most likely, we thought, Nathan volunteered her for the role, and because the particular area she would oversee involved a great deal of precise planning, staging, and execution, she felt a strong connection to the task. Although she felt like there was little to do in her first year, Elizabeth considered the experience to be friendly; becoming the lead organizer for event signage also appealed because, as she said, “I am a control freak and I like to own things.” Describing her approach as “ideation,” she notes, “I can’t solve a problem until I know everything that came before it. Stop talking about it—let’s go.”

Coco. Although currently retired, Coco became involved with the AIDS Walk through her former company, a large corporate sponsor that hosted a rest area along the 10k course. The rest area activities did not appeal to her however, and she realized that other opportunities—specifically heavy lifting and hauling—fit her interests more closely. She quickly became a standout “muscle crew” member despite her small, wiry frame. Coco felt that the experience of moving around, working with teams, and building the event from the ground up (before tearing it all down) was more appealing than “standing around, handing out bananas.” She described doing some of the most thankless work of the event—hauling tables, putting up signs and banners, hauling garbage, raising tents—but found the crews to be so friendly that she wanted to come back.  After five years of volunteering, she continues in her role as well as helping in the organization’s office on weekdays.

Sara. Although the youngest of the group, Sara was involved the longest, going back 14 years to when she was a young teenager. Beginning first as a walker and then volunteering, she became a Captain at age 18, a role she kept until age 28. She identified a prior volunteer coordinator as her major influence for getting so involved, saying, “She was just awesome, and we got along so well. It was a very personal connection. I was 14 years old telling my mom, ‘Drive me to the city so I can make safer sex kits!’” Having a number of gay friends and attending her school’s gay-straight alliance in the late 1990s, she felt that HIV/AIDS was a meaningful cause to her and her close associates, which combined with the personal contact she felt with staff, kept her committed throughout her young adulthood. Through this work, Sara felt that she built relationships with people outside the “normal” circles of her suburban upbringing, who came together regularly to volunteer and have fun. Responding to Sara’s recollections, Elizabeth found it amazing in their 12 years of age difference, so much had changed with respect to LGBT visibility and support. She was especially struck by the notion that a 14 year old could find community in an urban social environment that used to be considered taboo in many circles.  For Sara however, it was noteworthy that 15 years ago, HIV/AIDS fundraisers like this one had a much closer identification with LGBT communities, which she and the others felt was not as true in recent years.

What kept you involved?

Both Sara and Elizabeth have transitioned out of their volunteer roles, while Coco continues to stay involved. Although each friend described different reasons for staying involved with the Walk during our years together, there were slight variations in their responses as well. Elizabeth described her strong orientation to the task she was given and her need to fully visualize and solve the problems it presented. Sara and Coco, meanwhile both started by recalling their relationships to the people around them, and feeling a sense of community. Aside from just the general atmosphere of friendliness however, I noted that specific friendships seemed to occur that transcended the shared work and continued outside of the volunteer setting. At this point, Jaxon shared that although he came to the Walk and helped out as my partner, his stance over time shifted from reluctant (but obligatory) involvement to looking forward to seeing people that he knew I trusted with major responsibilities. His sentiment caused me to remember how during one of my first Walk seasons, Sara asked me how she could surprise Jaxon with a nice “thank you” for coming to help in the early morning. I suggested a mocha drink from Caribou Coffee, which she presented to him so suddenly that his face “melted” with gratitude, and they have been close friends ever since.

Elizabeth observed, “Let’s be honest—the day of the event is never fun. But it’s the people that make the difference.” She looked forward to doing the prep work every year, seeing everyone, and coming to the large planning meetings where people could form and/or rekindle connections to each other. She noted that during one year when smaller, more task-centered “satellite” meetings were attempted, the work was simply “less fun.” In response I shared my own observation from early in my involvement, when I found that many of these volunteer Captains got together in their own time over food or long walks, simply to hang out and share ideas for future Walks. I was frustrated at the time because it seemed that a great deal of energy around this event occurred when staff was not involved, in part because staff only met with the volunteers during official meetings. I described my response as, “Take me for a walk. Invite me out for coffee or happy hour. Let me be a part of the process when you come up with these inspired ideas, so we can actually connect your thoughts to the technical operations of the event. I don’t want the separation.” Building on this thought, Sara shared that at times, this perceived distance between staff and the volunteers led her to consider leaving. “I still remember telling them to consider different incentive prizes for the walkers, like iPods. Every other event out there was giving away nicer prizes for their top fundraisers, but we were giving away hats or a fleece. Three years later, they finally adopted it.”

Coco’s current volunteer role includes overseeing Walk signage, which means the responsibility has passed from Nathan, to Elizabeth, to her (“keeping it in the family”). She sees a lot of changes coming to the event, which may be positive or may create confusion. While we all agreed that change is necessary for large operations such as this event, she did share concern that newer staff may not understand the necessity of certain assignments or ways of carrying out the work. 

Beyond the volunteer work, what makes us stick together?

At this point, I raised my key question. We spent time with a number of people who worked hard on the AIDS Walk, who brought ideas, passion, and kindness to the experience. But, what led us to specifically stay in close contact with each other? Jaxon related it to another friendship he has nurtured with someone who studied overseas with him, using the term “translation” to characterize how a relationship that is meaningful in one setting continues to be meaningful beyond that specific context. Everyone emphasized the strength of emotional connections, the ability to trust each other, and the feeling of looking forward to seeing certain people that endures despite changes in everyone’s involvement.

Elizabeth raised other noteworthy quirks that we as friends seem to share “in a cool, serendipitous way,” such as an affinity for the British television show Doctor Who and an appreciation for Scotch whiskey. She and I both recalled an experience where she had been very dissatisfied not with me, but with a pre-AIDS Walk process that was changed without her consideration. Where she had felt bad about delivering negative feedback to me, I had felt grateful for her forthrightness and willingness to share exactly what she felt. I said, “You told me what you needed, and that is so refreshing.” For me, I remember that exchange as a striking encounter where two people found a way to navigate a complicated technical issue while affirming each other’s personhood throughout the encounter. What became apparent, then, was that the significance of our work together included the fact that we did more than just simply work. We took the time and space to engage with other aspects of each other’s life experiences and personalities, finding that beyond the regard we shared for the task at hand, each of us were connected in other meaningful ways.

Every person in our group shares a common set of experiences with the AIDS Walk, yet we all came to the event from different perspectives and responsibilities. Looking back  on my own role as staff during those years, I reflected that common knowledge may view the formal role of volunteer management as facilitating a positive environment in which volunteers feel a meaningful connection to their work. Beyond these characteristics, I found that the informal experience of building relationships, making space for interpersonal dynamics, and building trust can transcend the technical aspects of our shared work, thus enabling each of us to recreate meaningful and reciprocal friendships beyond the endpoint of our formal relationships.

The Good Year

Ever since 2008, Jaxon and I have kept the habit of giving each new year a broad theme, something that we hope to accomplish in the months ahead. It started after that perilous year when the economy crashed, and we had the first big financial scare of our partnered life together. We retroactively labeled 2008 the Year from Hell, due both to the loss of his business and four months unemployment, as well as the fact that between us and our families we lost six cherished pets, due either to old age or illness. Looking ahead, we labeled 2009 a year of stabilization, and by the end I had applied for my Ph.D. program. Then, 2010 became the year of transformation, as I started my program and began to transition out of my former job. Building on this theme, we labeled 2011 the year of growth, during which I left my old job entirely and jumped into the uncertain world of adjunct teaching to keep the bills paid. In 2012, our year of acceleration, I made steady progress, had one paper accepted for publication while another won an academic award, and passed my written exams, while Jaxon abandoned the paint store job that got him through the recession and restarted his own business. It hasn’t been without turbulence—at times exhausting and uncertain, as we’ve struggled to make ends meet. But, looking back as well as ahead, we’ve decided to name 2013 The Good Year.

 

Although I hate New Year’s resolutions, keeping a theme for the year has helped us frame our conversations, giving a bit of context to what we expect of ourselves. For me, the goals are to remain steady and get my dissertation proposal written and approved, while working to lose weight, keep seeking out new income sources, and building momentum for the books I would like to write post-dissertation. Meanwhile, Jaxon has weathered some of the early storms that come with launching (or relaunching) a business. Thanks to a dear friend, he has studio space to work in for a while, and some room to expand creatively beyond the faux finish and interior design work that can pay decently, but also get physically taxing and creatively monotonous. He needs to create, plain and simple, whether it be art, or space, or furniture, or some wonderful combination of these elements.  More significantly, we’ve both agreed that how he builds his business this time needs to be based on the quality of relationship he can build with people, who understand and seek out a more reciprocal relationship with an artist and/or designer. By this I mean, people who are less concerned with negotiating down to the last penny of a deal, and more open to working with someone over time, maybe first on smaller projects but maintaining a line of communication, as well as empathy and creative exchanges. I think that in older times, Jaxon would more easily fit the definition of an artisan or craftsman, who would maintain relationships with a few important patrons and produce custom works. It’s hard to do that in the modern economy, when mass production and cheap labor more or less rule the consumer market and force niche artists like him to undercut the value of their own time and efforts.

 

What this means for The Good Year has yet to be seen. Although I’m cautiously optimistic, a number of other factors need to come together, including this tepid economy and the continued good health of our pets and household. The only way to find out will be to live the damn thing. Right?