I had the pleasure of watching my partner introduce himself to a shop owner yesterday, in the hopes of finding a place to sell the beautiful, handcrafted chair he restored earlier this fall. Typically, at home I get to witness the inner part of his creative process, where he really dives in and puts his hands to work on a design vision, many of which have benefited this lovely old house that we share. But, I seldom have gotten to see him meet a total stranger and, within the frame of a few brief minutes capture their interest and imagination. Sometimes it’s not such a satisfying process for him, but in this instance the shop owner—who seems to have a passion of her own for thrift and salvage—really connected with his vision and intentions. The word that she kept using—“unique”—stayed with me as together they pored over the several fine details he put into the chair. There are no two pieces like it—which is both a selling point and a potential barrier to quick sales, as the right person has to see it, resonate with it, and be able to pay enough to make Jaxon’s efforts worthwhile.
Here’s a link to his newest work, including the chair. I’m sort of envious that his unique voice is so visual—he brings so many keen, nuanced, and emotionally stimulating details to his vision for design that I’m often amazed at how much lived experience he can capture in a piece of furniture, a faux finish, or one of his paintings. When arranged in one space, which he carefully and obsessively arranges to make sure that the energy feels just right, the assemblage of elements leads people to just relax—physically, emotionally, and intellectually. I’ve seen it multiple times in this house and our old apartment: people sort of sink into the furniture, gaze around, and in a brief while become completely and utterly disarmed.
I, on the other hand, am not a terribly visual person. I am instead extremely verbal (hence the blog), with a strong ability to empathetically listen and extract the subtle details of people’s stories, emotions, and intentions. I like stories, but more importantly I love the way people present their stories, especially in the age of social media. Take “It Gets Better,” for example, which Dan Savage started as a way to reach out and extend empathy and encouragement to bullied queer youth. Part of why it took off beyond just the GLBT community, in my opinion, is the catharsis that good storytelling demonstrates—our ability to connect with each other’s struggles by absorbing not only what they tell, but how they tell it. While I think that the key question of “how” things get better is still being culled, just creating space where people can share how they have struggled, and what they did to overcome it, opens us to a whole different set of dialogues concerning who we collectively want to be, and what we need to do to achieve it.
That brings me back to my fascination with the word “unique,” which I think so aptly describes Jaxon’s work. On the one hand, there are so many media out there for establishing our uniqueness—social media, blogging, videos, photography, etc.—yet cutting through the noise is such an ongoing challenge. Earlier this week my alma mater’s alumni association hosted an event in Minneapolis on social media, and I realized that I probably break about fifteen rules on good “personal branding” by writing out these lengthier, more introspective meditations and keeping my exposure confined to a few intentional channels. I think, though, that good storytelling comes through when people use the medium that best highlights their vision, skills, and points of view.
I remember twelve years ago when I tried shopping a novel, at age 23, with no real connections outside of a Midwestern university town. Uniqueness on its own couldn’t cut it—the networking piece, which might have enabled me to get noticed by the right people in publishing, was a job all on its own. For now, certainly there are more options for reaching out and sharing unique stories or viewpoints. At the same time, I think it requires a more deliberative process to make sure that the material we create reaches and resonates with those who will most likely connect with it.