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Thursday
Feb202014

Defending Folk (and Country) with Radio K's Mountain Connection

Dakota Sexton

On any given day, student DJs at the University of Minnesota’s Radio K station are giving listeners “creamy filling” cultural commentary that might or might not include deadpan weather reports and even more deadpan unsolicited advice to angry sports fans. They may also be mispronouncing band names. (It’s one of their most heavily-marketed selling points, actually: Radio K. Mispronouncing band names since 1993.)

More prestigiously, the station was also nominated for four separate CMJ music awards, including Best Radio Station and Best Programming, just last September. And the station produces what could safely be called an egalitarian mix of specialty shows, ranging from British to instrumental to metal music to even—one of my favorites—a show simply called Mountain Connection. It’s run jointly by two people: senior Halley Rose Nevels and sophomore Ross Koeberl. (Ross also pulls double-duty as the station’s Music Director and, shortly before meeting me, had just spent 27 hours at the studio. [Don’t worry: he also makes time for classes, and he even washes his own dishes.])

They formally describe their two-hour show as a mix of music “that came from the past and became the folk and American music of today,” but are also keen on including world folk and more contemporary music as well.

I talked to them about how to defend country; if folk is dead; forgotten women musicians of the '50s, ’60s and ’70s; and more.

Paper Darts: Why did you start Mountain Connection?

Halley: I really wanted to start a folk and bluegrass show. Our dynamic right now is kind of the same as what I had with [former co-host] Shelby. Shelby would bring in new stuff and I would have old bluegrass stuff.

My favorite genre could be described as old people, in the ’50s, recording on their front porch. I’ve played songs that were literally: an old lady, on her porch, in ’64 in the woods in North Carolina. And in the middle of the song she hacks something up. And she keeps going. And I’m like, yes! This is my genre! These are my people!

Ross definitely brings more bluegrass, but he also brings a lot more new music. Especially since he has so much exposure to it as a Music Director.

Ross: We also have the common denominator that a raw song is like, a young guy who is really sad and hammering really hard on a guitar and screaming.

Halley: Sad acoustic boy screaming.

Ross: Yes. Fairly popular genre.

You can’t actually relate to Zeppelin unless you’re climbing a mountain and there’s a beautiful woman on top.

PD: You know, I don’t know where I would’ve been in high school without Conor Oberst just…screaming.

Ross: That’s the sad boy who set the precedent.

Halley: I know, I wish I would have known about Crywank in high school.

Ross: I would have been exactly as uncool as I was, but I would have had better taste. I was still listening to Led Zeppelin really hard then, and you can’t actually relate to Zeppelin unless you’re climbing a mountain and there’s a beautiful woman on top. And you make love on the mountain. Which I especially wasn’t doing.

Halley: I was at an Amon Amarth show last night and I was screaming alone, like, “I will overthrow the throne!” And I’m—I’m not actually going to overthrow a throne, I do not relate to this, but I’m going pretty hard right now.

Ross: It was a metaphor. The mountain was a metaphor for high school.

PD: So I was driving a couple of weeks ago and listening to Mountain Connection. And you both had a country set planned, but you were like, “Don’t worry guys! It’s totally not from the ’90s. Before that! We promise!”

Halley: There has to be an asterisk there, whenever you’re like, we’re gonna play a country song.* Pause. [We’re gonna play] Loretta Lynn.

Ross: No mention of a truck. Maybe a mention of a dog leaving. Timeless themed. (Laughs)

 Halley: (Hands a pickle and a piece of celery to Ross.) Here, you can have this.

Ross: (Looks at the pickle, which is very fancy looking.) I just want this. With a little bit of lemon, maybe. I mean, what a great new restaurant concept.

PD: Just the Pickle? That would have to be the name of it. Just the Pickle. The euphemisms alone…. So do you plan what to say for each show?

Halley: If there’s an artist we’re really excited about, or if there’s a really cool back story, we’ll make notes to make sure we say certain things.

Ross: I tell the same story every time I play a musician named Connie Converse. She graduated top of her class, and was going to do big things with her life. She moved to New York, and got really into folk, recorded some stuff, and then became a secretary at a school in Michigan. One day, she wrote letters to her family saying, “I’m bored.” And then she packed up her car and disappeared. No one’s ever heard from her again.

The guy who recorded just a couple of demos in his kitchen with this woman has been passing them around for years, and eventually someone went for a wide release. And I heard it. And it’s one of my all-time favorite things. And every time we play it on the show I tell this story. And I’ll draw it out.

There’s so many facts that we can get really excited about during a show where we get to curate the content so heavily.

Halley: We feel bad—there’s a couple key artists who we play, and we can go on a tangent about. Like Jean Ritchie. She’s from Kentucky and known as the mother of folk. I found out she lives in Berea, which is like half an hour from where my parents live in Kentucky. And I found her son on Facebook, and I really want to send him a message, because she’s ninety, and say, “Is there any way I could go to Berea and talk to your mom?”

It would be the most incredible experience. She’s been such an influence on folk music, for so long, that it would just be an honor to go and talk to her.

There’s a mild folk revival, but as a trend, people never take it the full way. And learning the banjo is really hard. We can both vouch for that.

PD: Who else do you admire?

Halley: Sibylle Baier is another of my big influences.

Ross: It’s weird. There’s practically a subgenre of women folk artists from the ’60s and ’70s who no one remembered until three or four years ago. Like Vashti Bunyan. She made some weird album and faded off, and then Animal Collective collaborated with her and she just came back with a bang, and everyone was really excited about her all of a sudden. It’s the same proverbial tale. A lot of them died in obscurity, too.

Halley: With Sibylle Baier, she had all these home recordings she made throughout the ’70s. And then I think it was her son that got a hold of them and got them released in 2006. Possibly my favorite album. She has this really clear, gorgeous alto voice. Her guitar playing is really simple. Just a few simple chords but she makes it so beautiful and dark.

Ross: I think the good thing about folk is that it is always dealing with themes that are pretty relevant. And especially with music that’s being re-discovered, I think it just adds a renewed sense of relevance. As though it was valued at the time, and we can still reconnect with it.

PD: Do you hear a lot of contemporary folk? Or is there really, practically, no new folk?

Ross: I don’t know. As a music director, I get 80 albums a week. It’s a constant flow. And I don’t get that much folk.

Halley: It is nice to get bands like Trampled by Turtles, Pert’ Near Sandstone, bluegrass groups like that.

But it is distressing. That sounds a little dramatic. But it’s distressing to me that there is a pattern of bands that start out really bluegrassy. Really raw recordings. The Avett Brothers and their self-titled album are a prime example. A Carolina Jubilee is just incredible. But their new album sounds so manufactured.

Ross: It became trendy. There’s a mild folk revival, but as a trend, people never take it the full way. And learning the banjo is really hard. We can both vouch for that—we used to have banjos sitting in the corner of our rooms that I was so nervous to touch. Because I’m like, this is going to sound horrible, and my roommates hate it when I play banjo. Which is not a shock. I am that roommate now, the one who practices banjo.

PD: Better than having a roommate that’s like, “I play the saw now.”

Halley: That sounds awesome!

PD: It was horrible.

Ross: It is really hard to become proficient in that, in banjo. And because of that, bands try it on as a flavor, and then it’s like, oh this is just a pop-rock song and here’s three banjo notes. From the outside, from the label of folk, people just see it as lazy. And that there’s not that much innovation. But there are always interesting things that will pop up once or twice.

Bon Iver is a good example of that. He just went off in the woods and did his own thing and it happened to catch on.

PD: Yeah, and the fact that [Iver’s other project] Volcano Choir is from Eau Claire? Which most of us know as, just, that place you pass on your way to Chicago.

Ross: There’s always that. [We’re] always shocked when something does come out of a location that seems really quiet.

PD: Right. Wet Hot American Summer was shot both in Honesdale and on Lake Wallenpaupack, AKA rural Pennsylvania, which surprises me. I used to live there for three years while working for a [now-defunct] magazine.

Halley: What? That sounds awesome. Is there a sign there?

PD: No, they totally don’t capitalize on that at all.

Halley: There should be engraved plaque. Here in the year of our Lord 2001…. Michael Showalter was here.

Ross: What Minnesota town was Grumpy Old Men shot in? They love Grumpy Old Men. They brag about it, all over the place. It’s awesome.

Halley: They’re so into Grumpy Old Men.

Ross: I would be, too.

PD: So has anything made your stomach drop while on air?

Ross: I was doing my training shifts overnight, and I would come two hours early to hang out with the guy who would be before me. So I was hanging out from like midnight to 4 in the morning. Just completely dead tired. So we’re not really paying attention, and suddenly I heard [a song] drop the F bomb and I was like “Ohhhh this is bad. Matt, what do I do?”

And he was like, “Oh just leave it on. I’m sure it won’t say it again.” And then it does, and I just slam it off, and I’m like, “I’m never listening to you again. There’s gonna be like two minutes of dead air while I get ahold of the situation.”

Halley: Especially when you first start, it’s like, “the FCC and their hounds are outside the window howling.” I was sure I was going to get FCC-arrested. It’s so nerve-wracking.

Ross: Unfortunately, too, a lot of independent musicians are a lot more free to include “fuck” in their band name. Like, Holy Fuck and Fucked Up. And then like, you go “We just played this song by Fffff—Buttons.” It’s always entertaining to listen, especially if you know the person, and you can just drag on them for years to come.

Mountain Connection airs on Radio K on Sundays from 10am to Noon (Central Time), both locally and online.

Illustration and logo by Rose Kohrman.

Monday
Feb172014

Wordsmith: One More Week


 

WRITERS, YOU HAVE ONE MORE WEEK TO

SUBMIT

 

This spring, Paper Darts Literary Magazine, curator Ann Tozer, and jeweler Stephanie Voegele will present a collaborative exhibition exploring the connections between literature and art jewelry. We seek work from jewelers concerned with issues of text, literature and storytelling and writers who engage with ideas that surround jewelry, objects and the body. Displaying these two art forms together, our exhibition will expose where writers’ and jewelers' work meet.

Selected entries will be included in an exhibition to be held at Magers and Quinn Booksellers and an accompanying publication. Both will coincide with the Society of North American Goldsmiths’ conference in Minneapolis April 23–26, 2014.

 

 

Jewlery submissions are officially closed, but writers have one more week to submit their work. 

WRITERS, PLEASE SEND:

1. A piece of writing that engages with ideas that surround jewelry, objects and the body. Accepted genres include comics, poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. All submissions must be 700 words or less. Comics must be contained to an 8.5 x 11 in page. 

2. Cover letter and a short bio.

3. Submission fee of $6.

Please submit materials via SUBMITTABLE

 

All entries must be received by February 22, 2014

 

SUBMIT

 

Stephanie Voegele is a jeweler and Lecturer in Jewelry & Metalsmithing and the First Year Program at the University of Wisconsin-Miluakee. After completing her M.F.A. at the University of Georgia in 2010, she taught in the Jewelry and Small Metals Department at Humboldt State University, the University of Georgia, and received the Fountainhead Fellowship 2011-2012, instructing in the Craft/Material Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. She recently curated COATED: An innovative Jewelry and Nail Art Exhibition in Brooklyn, NY and exhibited her work at SIERAAD International Jewellery Art Fair in Amsterdam.  www.stephanievoegele.com

Ann Tozer is a curator specialising in contemporary and historical jewelry. Prior to joining Paper Darts as exhibition coordinator, she was part of the curatorial team for the jewelry collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

 

Friday
Feb142014

This American Lie

 

Dakota Sexton

An old friend is telling me about how he once had a vision of doing a literary series that would mostly involve robots. Lots of robots. Enough robots to stand in for every bad literary reading cliche, including “goth-emo girl” and “shouty-angry man.” 

This feels like real genius. Admittedly, I have been drinking. Even sober, though, I’d be really, really excited about this. But I know it will never happen.

So does Ryan Duke, the guy telling this story, who I met almost seven years ago when were both fiction writing students at Columbia College in Chicago. For me, a lot of the time following our first class together involved me either loving or (mostly) hating people who wear tights-as-pants, kind of like a politician confused about what’s up with women’s rights. Ryan, on the other hand, was going places.

He was attending literary readings that he noticed were frequently dominated by performers. He unapologetically loved them.

High on the list of readings he admires is Write Club, which bills itself as “bare-knuckled wit” and pits two writers against each other for no longer than 14 minutes. It’s pretty easy to describe the atmosphere as at least a little unhinged. And then there’s shows like 2nd Story, which Ryan admires for giving audiences well-rehearsed, polished performances that detail each author’s deeply personal stories.

Ryan wanted to produce his own take on a show, that would highlight each of these elements. The reading series—robots and all—would be riotous. It would be rehearsed. But it would also highlight the short fiction he felt isn’t necessarily suited to a no-holds-barred literary battle.

Laughing, he counters that with, “What the fuck do I know about running a show?” He’s modest. He’s a former theatre nerd, and his family is actually lousy with talented voice actors. He knows things.

Regardless, he pitched his idea to other writer friends, including Simon A. Smith, and asked them to contribute. He also notably began talking to actors like Eleni Pappageorge and other theatre friends. Everyone contributed. “Everything was a group decision,” Ryan says. The show evolved in earnest until August of 2013, when Pre-Post Humanists Present launched a show for the first time.

The show featured fiction written by C. James Bye and James Tadd Adcox, but did not feature them reading their own work. Instead, voice actors stepped up and voiced the characters and story of each work themselves. In the case of an excerpt from Bye’s novel, this gave several actors the opportunity to give the kind of vivid, multiple-character-driven performance that’s unlike virtually any other reading series…but a lot like a play.

Brandon Paul Eells, the voice of the show's malevolent computer.

Did I forget to mention there were still robots? Okay, I mean, there was a computer. An all-knowing computer. Inspired by post-humanist fiction, science-fiction-related reads like H+ Magazine, and Ray Kurzweil. (Otherwise known as the guy who believes the Singularity is near. Or in real words: that soon, maybe computers will be so smart and intuitive that they can maybe be your girlfriend, but maybe don’t actually think beer is cool.)

The influence of all that nerdery on the show is easy to see. In between the staged readings of short fiction, the Pre-Post Humanists Present collective performed sketch comedy featuring an animated computer eye projected onto a wall, that notably berated and abused the show’s hosts.

Its sole purpose appeared to be to make the humans humiliate themselves. The list of possible activities it had come up with seemed endless: dancing, performing at literary readings…

The usual humiliating things.

So why call it Pre-Posts Humanists Present? Ryan explains it like this: “The joke on [Pre-Post Humanists Present] is that it’s before what comes next—apocalyptic stuff,” he says. “We had a computer always threatening us. So he was The Singularity.”

Simon A. Smith with Eleni Pappageorge

Ryan isn’t shy about admitting that the show is a weird hybrid of two very different shows—it’s essentially two plays wrapped in a comedy. Does he think the stories ever get overshadowed?

The answer is yes.

“It was neat and different. I was really committed,” says Ryan, “but it took a lot of people to just objectively look at it and tell me, ‘You have two shows going.’”

He will now readily admit, “The silliness seemingly drowned the fiction.”

Future shows featuring the collective’s version of a Singular Consciousness are now on hold. Ryan hasn’t given up on dramatizing enjoyable short fiction stories, though. The talented folks he runs with at Pre-Post Humanists Present are just now releasing the details on a new series called Reading Out Loud. This time it’s online. But it dramatizes fiction using many of the same voice actors, and with plans to produce audio performances of stories written by authors including Aaron Burch, James Tadd Adcox, and Elizabeth Crane.

The whole show is a bit like This American Life, with one very big difference: they don’t tell true stories. What the collective does plan to do is tell short, enjoyable fiction; use professional voice actors; and also utilize post-effects including audio effects and musical queueing that complements, not distracts, from the actual narrative. “We’ve joked that it’s This American Lie,” Ryan says.

FROM LEFT: Jason Polevoi and Jon Haverkamp in the sound booth; Coby Goss; Sara Gorsky

In the future, he says, “…the dream is to be picked up by radio stations.” They haven’t ruled out the possibility of a live show either—the group has considered taking it on the road to produce it for live audiences all over. Just as the original live show did, it’s an idea that’s going to evolve.

Submit to Reading Out Loud

If you want to get your work read by the talented voice actors of Pre-Post Humanists Present, keep in mind these guidelines:

Flash fiction: Up to 1,000 words

Full-length, short fiction submissions: 2,000 to 4,000 words

Beyond that, almost anything is game. What interests the collective most, Ryan says, is “character-centric stories, people moving in space.” He adds that “Stories that read well in this format have interesting characters that cause trouble.”

But don’t let that overly limit what you submit. Be creative. For examples of what Reading Out Loud has already produced, check out:

“Bedwetter” by Ryan Duke

“Lightly Used Boy,” by Simon A. Smith

Get more details on how to submit your work here.

 

Robot designed by Drew Ellis from the Noun Project

Thursday
Feb132014

Calling all black hearts

 

 

On February 14, the Twin Cities will welcome a new take on local fashion through the Black Hearts Ball. Lead by the designers Tim+Thom and a cohort of local designers, the night promises a spectacle of clothing, art, music, and showmanship. 

 

What: Black Hearts Ball
Huh: Presented by TIM+THOM, The Black Hearts Ball is a glamorous black and white semi-formal event welcoming fans of Minnesota fashion, opera, orchestra and theater.  
When: Friday, February 14, 2013

 

Doors open at 8:00 p.m. with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres
Fashion and Opera Performances at 9:00 p.m.

 

Where: The Minneapolis Club, 729 2nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55402

 


Paper Darts: What was lacking in the Twin Cities fashion scene?

We think the fashion community here is AMAZING. This city is full of driven designers that have definitely cut their teeth, have an unique vision and possess an extreme skill in executing and presenting their ideas and pushing them over the top—the bar is set high here. We think the scene isn't necessarily lacking in punch or zeal at all-for our event, we just wanted to offer a different type of fashion event (more of an arts event featuring fashion) than the usual commercial runway event.

PD: What mark are you looking to make with this event? 

We wanted to bring a different kind of fashion event to the Twin Cities that mixed fashion with avant garde art forms (performance, opera, and classical music) in an effort to have an elevated/sophisticated experience that isn't typical of commercial fashion shows. Since it's a ball that is more formal and sophisticated, we decided to draw inspiration from the glamor and prestige of the golden age/turn of the century as an inspiration. Overall, we view Black Hearts Ball as more of an arts event featuring fashion and opera rather than a full-on traditional runway event. 

On top of creating a different fashion experience for audience, we also wanted to provide a different type of runway event opportunity for our designers. It's almost more of a 'fashion as fine arts' opportunity for designers. We are giving them complete freedom to create a collection and performative runway experience (complete with an opera accompaniment of course!) instead of just a standard commercial/retail runway show.  

PD: Where do you see the Twin Cities fashion headed? 

We are really interested in expanding the fashion audience and making the community here welcome to people who aren't immediately embedded in the industry—hence our approach of calling Black Hearts Ball more of an arts event featuring fashion than a full on runway event.

We also want to give the audience already embedded in the fashion scene more diverse opportunities—both in the traditional runway sense and in the non-traditional runway sense (e.g., an arts event featuring fashion). 

We hope to do more events like this in the future—events that are engaging and exciting to a diverse crowd of both fashion industry insiders and a broader arts audience.

 

TIM + THOM

Garrett Born Photography

Danielle Everine

 

 

Sarah Holm

 

 

Carly Schoen

Black Heart Ball Designers:

Tim NavarroThom Navarro / Danielle Everine / Laura Fulk / Sarah Holm /
Rachel Roff / Carly Schoen

 

Tuesday
Feb042014

Interview: Amanda Atkins

By Sam Trevino

On a windy November afternoon in Allston, Massachusetts, I met with artist Amanda Atkins for an interview. I first became acquainted with Amanda when we were attending the Art Institute of Boston—and living in the same poorly-lit dorm. Now in her mid-twenties, Amanda is an educator and an artist living in Boston with a flair for both the old-fashioned and the whimsical. Crafting her stylized portraits is a personal and introspective labor of love, fueled by inspirations, influences, and an extremely intimate vision. Amanda and I caught up over coffee as she shared her process.

Sam Trevino: Is artwork your main means of earning a living?

Amanda Atkins: Actually no. There was a time when it was: I was working retail, just really struggling to get by, [and] working really hard to make art my primary career. But in the past few years, I’ve gotten really involved in teaching and working with kids. I have really kind of fallen in love with it. So…now it’s like I have two jobs! They kind of ebb and flow into each other, and the kids are really inspirational in terms of making artwork. It’s been really fun.

ST: When did you first start making art?

AA: As a child. When I was little—and even still today—my two biggest loves were animals and pictures, and I thought that I would either be an artist or a veterinarian when I grew up.

ST: If you had to pick one animal as your all-time favorite, what would it be?

AA: Well this answer is kind of boring and generic, but I love dogs. I grew up with dogs, and they are such wonderful creatures and I think they’ll always be my favorite.

ST: Don’t you have a cat right now named Unicorn?

AA: (laughs) That’s my roommate’s cat. I love Unicorn very much though. I actually grew up with both dogs and cats, and I have a cat that still lives with my mom and dad who I’ve had for 21 years. Her name is Tiger and we have a very special connection.

ST: Other than animals, what else influences your art?

AA: Since I was 11 I’ve had a really big fascination with the 1940s and 1950s. It’s impacted every aspect of my life, but most especially my art.

ST: Back in college you would often focus on famous historical figures as the subjects of your drawings, a lot of famous authors…

AA: (laughs) Yes! I [also] love Matte Stephens, a painter who works in an illustrative, 1960s-esque style. His color palettes are beautiful and his art is so fun. I love paintings that are kind of mysterious, and I’m inspired by people making their own businesses in a grassroots way.

ST: Going through the work on your website I was reminded a little of Portland-based artist Carson Ellis.

AA: Yeah, I love her work, how everything is sepia-toned and old fashioned, how she tells little stories with her work. She’s an amazing artist who definitely evokes a certain world.

ST: You have also done cover art illustration, for both DigBoston and Write Bloody Publishing...and you've done illustrations for a children’s book too, right?

AA: I did; I did a children's book which was also in collaboration with Write Bloody Publishing. It was really fun. Derrick Brown wrote it and I got to do some cool illustrations of whales and the ocean and nautical things, so that was very fun.

ST: What’s it called?

AA: It’s called I Looooove You Whale (laughs).

ST: How was your experience working and collaborating with Derrick Brown on that project, and contributing your work to Write Bloody in general?

AA: Oh I love Write Bloody Publishing. Even before I did work for them I was a fan of Amber Tamblyn, the actress, and she worked with them a lot in terms of her poetry and that’s how I discovered them. I got really into their books, and I always loved their cover art, so when Derrick emailed me to do the cover for Karen Finneyfrock’s book [Ceremony For The Choking Ghost] I was over the moon excited, so I’ve been lucky to have been a part of everything that they do.

ST: I mentioned already that subjects of your portraits are often actual historical figures—like Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf. At least as often, it's also women who seem fictitious and fantastical, like the tattooed lady on the cover of Ceremony For The Choking Ghost. Are strong female subjects a consciously planned theme in your work?

AA: Yes. I definitely want to paint women that speak to other women especially, and I’m really honored every time a women buys one of my paintings and tells me what it means to them. I love hearing the different meanings that other women derive from the paintings. They’re definitely often fictitious, but they all have different feelings when I’m painting them and I’ll have a different idea of what the girl I’m painting is like while I’m painting her. I like them to represent different strengths.

ST: Could you expand on that? What are some of the different strengths you've imagined for each of your paintings?

AA: Empathy, courageousness, adventurousness, and sensitivity to the world. These are all things I admire in other people, and I just like to try to capture them in the paintings of the women I do.

ST: Do you start out with a clear idea of what each of your characters, each of your paintings, represent?

AA: Sometimes I’ll start and have a solid idea of the painting before going in, and then the evolution is very minimal. But sometimes that changes while I’m working on one, and I feel a little detached from these characters, like it’s just something that "wants" to be created. I don’t always feel like I have full control over it, and I see what happens when I’m drawing. It’s sort of a dialog between the work and seeing what happens.

ST: Do your characters all have names in your head?

AA: Well the paintings themselves have titles, which I guess are kind of poetic. They can be a little wordy I guess, but I love titling the paintings to indicate how I was feeling when I painted the ladies, but I don’t really give them giant backstories. I feel like I have an idea in my head of what’s going on with them, but I kind of like to keep them free and not weigh them down with too many connotations. They’re pretty open for the viewer’s ideas.

ST: In your portraits, the figures are very stylized and all seem to have expressive eyes and drastic features, with elegant, elongated necks. Where does that choice come from?

AA: I honestly don’t know…I think it signifies a sort of ballerina-esque beauty that, for some reason, I want all my ladies to have.

 

All rights reserved to Amanda Atkins.

Friday
Jan102014

When "Having it All" Means Working Over the Holidays

Lizzy Shramko

When people ask me what I do at parties (not that I really go to the types of parties where people ask that question), my first response is not “managing the social media pages of the organization I work for.” No. I am a writer. I like to DJ, read, cook, and I love riding my bike. I am also a closeted academic and read queer theory when I can get a good chunk of time to sit in front of a book and parse through the latest academic buzzwords. The tasks that I complete during time paid for by someone else can’t even begin to encapsulate the many interests and passions I have.

Yes, there are some super lucky people in the world who love the work they are financially compensated for (or suspiciously claim they do on Facebook), but for many of us a day or night job is just that—tasks you do during the day or night.  

More often than not, the hours that you spend doing stuff you get paid for do not represent your interests in their entirety.

This is why designated, paid time off for people is so important—and not for the reasons many people think.

If you have a full-time job, often times your responsibilities do not neatly fit in your workday. This translates to working on projects at 9:00 p.m. when you were supposed to be off at 5:00 p.m., or going in to work a shift at 8:00 a.m. and leaving at 8:00 p.m., or just spending time outside of work thinking about tasks you have to do at work. Even if you work under 40 hours a week these things are often expected—without the benefits.

The paradox of full-time work is that outside the 40 hour work week you are often expected to respond to emails or deal with “emergencies” as they rise. If you don’t have a full-time job, you lack the benefits that make it possible to feasibly have consecutive time off in the first place.

But paid time away from your job plays a vital role in cultivating the other work in life.

This is true for all people, not just “creative people”—whatever that means. Whether it is composing a remake of the Game of Thrones theme song using a cat on vocals or making time to paint landscapes or taking on the task of turning your bike into a fixie, these things take time, concentration, and valuable brain space that can be filled to the brim with tasks and projects from your paid work. Also, not to get all sentimental, but these things are the things that make a person who they are.

For me a full-time job is a different kind of burden.

I belong to a gender that has been historically and continually paid less than my male peers. 

I won’t receive the same benefits or be able to take similar amounts of time off (and I have the privileges that go along with being a college educated white woman, so there is no telling how others experience that). If I decided to quit my job to write full time it would be harder for me to find a publishing house that would publish my work, or a publication that would use stories with my byline. These are realities I, and many other people, face when making choices about work, life, and writing.

So after years of underemployment, now that I am a full-time employee with benefits, I take advantage of paid holidays to do actual work. I write. I take photos. I make lists. I research conferences and gatherings across the country. I strategize about stories I want to pitch to publications. It takes time to craft meaningful pieces, to factor in relevancy in a 24-hour news cycle, and to think about what artistic integrity means to you. During paid holidays I have an opportunity to shut off my working self and I have time to put energy into my writing. 

I don’t take Christmas vacation as an opportunity to engage in Christmas activities. I don’t spend time with my extended family, because they all live on the East Coast and I prefer to maintain my sanity and not travel during one of the busiest and most expensive times of the year. I don’t have kids, and at this rate I’m not sure I’m ever going to. There are many conversations about women “having it all” that have focused on one type of work outside of paid workraising a family.

For me “having it all” means having both the financial compensation/stability that goes along with full-time work and the time to create meaningful work outside of a paid job. Or better, being paid for work you create. This should be true whether you create novels or babies.

As a non-paid writer (I think I’ve made a total of $138.97 over my eight-year writing career), I don’t do it for the money (but I would if you paid me). Writing helps me process things, and as a young woman who identifies as a feminist, let’s just say there is a lot to process. The types of books that top the New York Times bestseller do not contain characters or points of view that reflect the complicated world I live in. Even independent publishing houses are dominated by a pervasive white masculinity that claims “objectivity.” This is why having days to spend 10 hours thinking through, imagining, and writing is so vital for me. There is a lot to process on the pathway to creation. Luckily I have role models that help me along the way.

My mom, doing what she does best.

I grew up in an unconventional household where my mother, Greta Huttanus, was a writer and poet. While she was paid to work at a bookstore (and not paid to work as a mother), she spent the few down hours she had writing. I understood at a young age that sitting on the couch surrounded by thick books and seemingly unrelated sheets of paper meant “research.” I also understood that writing took time—lots of time.

I was lucky enough to learn that it was not weird for a woman to be a writer and that what you do to earn a living does not define the person you are.

My mom, who thankfully quit her job at a bookstore, is still sitting on her couch reading, doing research, and writing. I currently date a full-time musician who works really hard, is super talented, and gets paid to do something he loves. But people who are paid for what they create don’t really get paid holidays, and they could write an entirely different blog post on the precarity of being paid for creating things. (Except they are probably too busy making things to do that.)

The point I am trying to make is simple. Time off is important—it should be available to everyone, not just people who work 40 hours a week. It is important for people who want to spend it with their families, or for people who choose to have kids, and for people that enjoy commemorating holidays. But it’s also an important time to create, to think, and to do a different kind of work that is just as, if not more, important than the stuff you get paid to do. Even if people don’t seem to get the importance of it.

So when people ask me what I did over vacation my answer is pretty simple: I worked. And while often I get sad looks and assumptions about an unhappy life at home in return, I can’t really imagine spending my vacation in a more meaningful way.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me that is ok.

Wednesday
Jan082014

The Freelance Writing Survival Kit

Dakota Sexton 

My friends don’t normally come to me for serious advice. Like, ever. I usually provide a brain trust of a million different, but equally bad, dating-related ideas. If my life were a romantic comedy, this would mean I don’t have it together and am otherwise a clueless or jaded best-friend/supporting character that will never find love unless fate pairs me up with someone who is equally hopeless and probably both wildly sweet and also somehow a really big lost cause.

But I digress. This is about writing advice.

When friends ask about that, I have different answers. And I hold onto different helpful writing-related tips and articles. Almost nothing beats Richard Morgan’s essay “Seven Years as a Freelance Writer, or, How to Make Vitamin Soup.” In it, Morgan describes how he pitched fancy magazines like Playboy and Details while still living with his parents in Apex, North Carolina. During the same decade, he also has to make vitamin soup, mostly by mashing up a multi-vitamin with a bunch of garlic salt in hot water. (Sexy!)

If you need more inspiration than that, there are tons of practical, online resources. Among the best: Ann Friedman’s #Real Talk From Your Editor column for the Columbia Journalism Review. MediaBistro publishes a weekly How to Pitch column that provides advice on pitching to a single publication, which also includes tips from the publication’s own assigning editors. Chris Guillebeau has been writing to his readers about freelancing and budget-friendly travel hacking tips for years as a blogger (and he writes totally affordable books on the same subjects as well). There are also ultra-cheap Skillshare courses on everything from Humor and Personal Essay writing to how to pen a 10-minute film short.

What’s missing for me? More articles that detail how exactly to pretend to be professional when you need to invoice a client, especially for hourly-paid freelance work. Or when you haven’t been paid. Or how to get an interview transcribed affordably while sleeping. There are tons of budget-friendly applications and services for all of this, though. Below is a list of just a few of my favorites.

For Organizing Tax Deductions

I’d guess that “butt-loads” is the correct term for how many expenses most freelance writers could write off. Except I don’t really know that many people who actually do it. There’s an awful lot of effort required. And what if you get audited? A service called Shoeboxed wants to let you have your cake and eat it too, though, by letting people scan or mail in receipts and other business-related documents. Shoeboxed then trades you an IRS-accepted image to use for each document, plus provides other selective benefits.

For Writing and Editing

Have you heard of a writing app called Scrivener? Supposedly, a bunch of fairly-reputable writers think that it’s pretty cool. I’ve also tried it. Instead of recommending it to any other gullible people, however, I’d like to create a drinking game. It will punish you whenever you can’t remember how to do something really basic, and the game will also punish you whenever you can’t find a tiny piece of research because it was hidden in a sea of panels and/or obnoxious different boxes.

You could blackout for half of the day doing this, or just try out Editorially or iA Writer. Both are dreamy, well-designed writing apps that focus on minimalism and typography. They format text using a web-friendly language (Markdown) that easily converts to HTML without the additional garbage code other applications (Microsoft Word, Pages, and even Google Docs) unintentionally create.

When you finish a draft with Editorially, you can also easily invite friends and editors to read, comment, and edit your work. And as a bonus, there’s version control options built into both programs to reassure even the most paranoid and/or obsessive writer.

For Invoicing and Time-Tracking

Do you need to be paid for an article or something else you did? As a joke, try signing a contract and just cross your fingers. Someone might know you need to be paid, because magic. But if that doesn’t work out, try using Harvest. It’s an online and app-based service that can track task-based time and also help you invoice clients—repeatedly, if necessary. After creating a project and, optionally, toggling task-based timers, Harvest can generate an invoice that's automatically populated with all the relevant info you need.

If your client/publisher doesn’t still rely on billing practices that probably once originated in some kind of dinosaur age (like the 70s, or possibly just whenever the publication was founded), Harvest also helps you to accept payments online using Stripe.

For Email Reminders

Getting ahold of editors is hard. We’re busy, we get really distracting stomachaches sometimes, and it’s just hard to make yourself remember to keep reminding us to get back to you in the first place. That’s where Boomerang for Gmail comes in. After installing it in Gmail, you can set up automatic email reminders for any outgoing email. If say, an editor doesn’t get back to you in a week, a “boomerang” will let you know.

On the flip-side, if you don’t have the time to answer an email, you can set up a boomerang to hide an email for a few days.

For Transcribing Audio

Until recently, I transcribed all my own audio interviews. Other editors I knew just assigned that work to our interns, but I was personally too embarrassed to do that. Now as a freelancer/unpaid-and-non-glamorous editor, getting an intern to do it is obviously no longer even an option. There are professional transcribing companies (notably Casting Words), but the cost is usually out of the question on freelance money. Yet there’s hope: Mechanical Turk, a service launched by Amazon about 5,000 (actually 9) years ago.

As a “Requester,” you can post an entire audio file online for one person to transcribe or upload 6-7 small segments of the same file for multiple Turkers to complete—using one set of instructions. Get more tips on maximizing the service here and here.

For Your Health

For the most part, I don’t try to use a lot of health-focused apps. But I do use f.lux, a free app that adjusts your screen’s brightness automatically based on info you provide on your current room lighting.

For General Productivity

I name-dropped an app called TeuxDeux more times than anything else last year. It does one thing: lets you keep an online to-do list of everything you’re supposed to do in a given day. If you don’t cross a task/priority out, or delete it (the app lets you do both), then it automatically rolls over to the next day. That’s it.

It’s simple, but it works.

And if you spend a lot of time on the internet (you must), just set all new windows in your browser to open to TeuxDeux’s task listing and you’ll be constantly reminded of what you’re supposed to be working on. Alternatively, you can also download the TeuxDeux iPhone app.

That’s all. You should now have all the tips you need to bother every gainfully-employed editor in America, or at least the ones that matter. (Kidding! Sort of.)  

Band Aid icon by Wilson Joseph from The Noun Project