Last October I was lucky enough to get hired to write grants for an amazing organization here in Portland. It’s called The Telling Room, and it’s a writing and literacy center for kids. I think we all know that kids are some of the best storytellers out there, and it turns out that helping them put their experiences and ideas down on paper can sometimes be profound and sometimes be hilarious (and in the best cases, both!).
A few times a year, Telling Room staff get the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are. As “writers” working for a writing organization, can we really walk the walk?
Last winter, my number came up. There was an open slot in SLANT, our quarterly live storytelling event, so I jumped on that grenade. It’s a bit like The Moth, if you’re familiar–12 minutes, no notes, no props. It’s just you and mic on stage, wilting in the bright lights in front of a significant portion of the population of Portland.
How’d it go? You can tell for yourself now that The Telling Room’s new podcast is up. Check out Episode 20: Soundtrack of My Life. I was fourth in a lineup of some seriously accomplished Mainers, a scenario that saw me almost heaving before taking the stage.
The next SLANT is coming up fast! It’ll be sometime this summer, so keep and eye out and come down. Or, if you’re brave enough, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up to tell a story of your own.
And actual tweet from a production company in the UK:
@DevolopmentRaw CASTING Docu-Series – Moving Off-Grid in pursuit of independence & self-sufficiency? Email us for info! Casting@raw.co.uk #backtotheland
When does something qualify as a trend? When the New York Times gives it a nod, or when it gets its own reality tv show?
From the start, I knew I wanted to write something about the back-to-the-land movement. What I didn’t know was what form it would take, what I specifically write about it or really what the movement actually was.
I have a knack for picking up on the beginning of trends and social phenomena in their nascent stages, and I could feel something building back in 2010. The global financial meltdown had left everybody shook. I personally had friends who lost six-digit retirement funds, which they had slaved to build up in high stress corporate jobs for years to accumulate. In a flash, it was all gone, and maybe the notion that long hours and hard work in a cubicle day-in and day-out eventually pays off. The carrot at the end of the stick–grad school, a career, homeownership, stability and retirement–increasingly looked like lead weight, weighing us all down rather than coaxing us forward.
So what if you just sidestepped it all? Could you? Drop out, trade the cramped apartment for a place in the country, grow your own food without the trepidation of out ghastly, horrorshow modern food system, kick back around the occasional bonfire at night. Was it possible?
When I moved to Maine almost six years ago, the general idea was to do something like that. Chase tangibility for a bit, learn to love hard work of a different kind where you’re body-tired at the end of the day instead of angsty and mentally drained. Before long, I learned that I wasn’t alone in my aspirations. At the margins of popular culture, things were taking on a decidedly earthy note. Chicks necks dripped crystals, psychedelic music–in tone, not necessarily chemically–made a resurgence, then came the teepee fetish and the heritage workwear fashion craze.
I saw my generation grasp at authenticity, but would it amount to more than just another consumerist rouse? What would happen if we actually rolled our sleeves up, flipped The Man the bird and lit out for the sticks? Could you really get away from it all?
That’s still being sorted out. My book, Get Back Stay Back: 2nd Generation Back-to-the-Landers looks back to the origins of the movement in the 60s and 70s and traces its evolution to today. Fittingly, two weeks before it came out, “back to the land” was all the craze at New York Fashion week. According the New York Times back to the land The Moment feature, “There’s a handcrafted earthiness to urban dressing this season.” The return of aesthetic, at least on some level, was imminent–but what about the actual investment in ideas like getting back to basics, voluntary simplicity, sustainability and self-sufficiency?
If you’ve been scratching your head all along, asking yourself, “back-to-the-what?” the trailer above does a pretty good job of summing it up. I can’t really express enough gratitude to my brother-from-another-mother-and-generation Joey Dello Russo. Add extra thanks to the good dudes from PEALS for the music that glues the images together, and you have yourself a heaping serving of “completely blown away by how generous my friends are.”
So listen up day dreamers, aspiring agriculturalists, burgeoning farmers, homesteaders, cooks, outdoors people, hippies and fellow country living enthusiasts — this book is for you. If you’ve ever dreamed of dropping out, getting back to basics and leaving the rat race behind, I literally wrote it just for you (which is to say for me, too). It’s about sustainability, self-sufficiency, counter cultures, communes, voluntary simplicity and figuring out what life looks like lived outside the mainstream. Really it’s about doing things differently and the way that idealism endures over the course of forty years and two generations.
If you read this blog, and enjoy it, do me a solid and take a step outside the “like and move on” box. Order it and I’ll be grateful, but please go the extra mile and spread the word. Share it, talk to me about it, and let people know what you think about this whole thing. At the end of the day, if you’ve ever wondered if it’s still possible to find yourself a place in the sun, out among the grass and the trees, we’re on the same page.
At long last, it’s almost here. This Thursday, February 13, 2014, I’ll be hurling two and half years of hard work out into the world in the form of my first book. GET BACK STAY BACK looks at the back-to-the-land movement as it unfolds over the course of two generation here in Maine. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but rolling my sleeves up and diving deep into this topic led me to a place where a lot of what’s important to me in life comes together at a critical juncture. Food, farming, wilderness, art, handcraft, and the pursuit of simplicity — specifically how hard it can be to pursue — it’s all in there.
If you’re interested and so moved, we’d love to have you at the launch party on from 7:30-9:00 at the ICA at MECA in downtown Portland. Support independent publishing and all the elbow grease that goes into it, and maybe share this post or shout about it from a mountain top if you enjoy WW&W from time to time. There’s more to come, which you can keep up with here: www.getbackstayback.com.
If you can’t make it down, copies will soon be available for purchase online. Link to come!
Couldn’t have said it any better myself. And while we’re on the topic of Ira Glass and This American Life, how cool is it that podcasts have contribute to, rather than detracted from, the tradition of narrative radio shows. This is the technology era, after all, and it often seems like every brave new step erases something grand and old.
And despite what this piece says about Why Audio Never Goes Viral, TAM has an audience of over two million listeners. I mean, it’s not Lone Ranger, but there’s still just something about the state of half-zone out one can only achieve while listening to a story without any associated visual stimuli.
You know that thing where you don’t post anything for THREE MONTHS, then you do? And you wonder, how’d that happen? What’ve I been up to? Well, to answer that, a lot.
Just last week I put the final finishing touches on my book. More on that soon, it’ll be out in the next month and available for purchase. I’ve also been writing grants for one of the most amazing non-profits around, and writing some catalog copy for this venerable outdoor institution.
But mostly, I’ve been listening to a lot of Cass McCombs. This video combines so many of my favorite things, I’m not sure what to do about it. One is Cass’ new album Big Wheel and Others. Another is the use of the Shreddy McGnargnar (aka, Shreddy Vedder) imagery, masterminded by Patrick O’dell. If you haven’t checked out his mini-doc series on Vice Epicly Later’d, do it now and kiss the next several hours of your life goodbye (even if you’re not a crusty old skate bum like myself and obsessed with late-90s era Toy Machine videos, seriously, the series is so good).
Lots more to come soon, keep an eye peeled. On a parting note, here’s a shot of Cass with Patrick’s dog Edgar. If you need a little kick in the pants today, check out Edgar’s transformation from rescue dog wreckage to beloved household pet. RIP Edgar, and all the other very good dogs who’ve blessed us with their presence.
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