Essay: Thoughts On the Interview With Julie Pointer, Part Five: Drifting After a Fire

Thousands of miles away, everything you care about burns to the ground. Letters, notes from junior high, pictures that never got scanned, work and art you’ve put countless hours into, the banister post you held to tightly swing around the corner as you descended the stairs, the window that let in just the right amount light in the morning, every blade of grass that held a picnic blanket - a home lost. 

Value can be put on any number of items, experiences, or character traits, but one doesn’t have to be a hoarder to place and find it in seemingly small and insignificant things. As people we only find comfort through connection. 

It was this idea of connection that made me think of José Saramago’s book, The Stone Raft, as I drove home from Julie’s apartment. 

If you haven’t read the book, Saramago writes a fantastical story about the Iberian Peninsula breaking off from Europe and sweeping out into the Atlantic Ocean; homes, families, and land are unanchored and set adrift. 

I can only imagine what Julie must have thought and felt as her home drifted away in the fire, never to be seen again. How does one make sense of home when home no longer exists? 

For Julie, I assume art school was a time for rebuilding - a time to establish new connections - a time working through the long, difficult, and trying process of re-establishing and understanding of what life would look like without a physical heritage. 

In The Stone Raft, Spain and Portugal slow in their drifting, but never settle And, eventually, their occupants begin to accept a wondering fate. By the look of her apartment, Julie’s wondering may be over. She has surrounded herself with a new incarnation of home. 

Interview: Julie Pointer of Kinfolk Magazine, Part Five

JP: Yeah, so that was four years ago, literally this week four years ago. When it happened I was in Europe. It was the fall after I graduated from college. I had been spending the time in Denmark and some other places, and was working on some farms and meeting up with friends. I also spent time in one of my favorite places in the world, this little town in Italy, where I studied in college with a couple of my best friends a few years before. It was there that I found out there had been a wildfire in Santa Barbara. Two hundred houses had burned down.
It started only about a mile from my house. So, my mom saw it almost before anyone and called the fire department. It was this crazy... So, we get these winds called the Santa Ana winds, that are hot winds, they had picked up ashes from the night before, starting the fire. Because we live in the foothills, the fire just rushed down. It was even really close to the college campus where my parents work.
Anyway, since I was travelling, all my stuff was at my parents house. They were able to get some of my stuff out. They got some art, some slides and important documents out, but they only had a half an hour before they had to evacuate.
In terms of tangible things that were a part of me or shaped my past - it was all gone. Years and years of journals, years and years of photographs, all my parent’s stuff, scrap books, books - everything. So, it was just...really weird. It happened just five days before I was coming home. When I came home all I had was my family and friends. In terms of physical things, everything that had represented who I was was completely gone. And I think it’s very ingrained in my family, especially on my mom’s side, that ‘things’ are very important to us. ‘Things’ because of sentimentality, not ‘nice technological things’ or ‘nice cars’. We don’t care about those things, but in terms of letters and books - things that have been gifted to us or things that we find our identity in. Those kinds of things are really important to us, so, it was probably the most displacing thing I could ever imagine happening to me. To come home and not have any of those things and not have a house. It was also in that really weird time of life right after you graduate. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know who you want to be. It was the lowest point of my life. It was the closest to being depressed that I have ever been.
So, the initial time of figuring out what - or who - I should be was strange. I applied for grad school, because I told myself I would apply - not actually thinking I would go. But I ended up getting in. Moving here was probably the best thing I could have ever done for that time of life and having that experience.
After that (the fire) happened, and this sounds really weird, I felt like a non-person. I felt like I was completely empty. I didn’t know who I was.
GR: Because who are you without your history?
JP: Yeah. I don’t think most people understood that. To them it just seemed like this very tangible loss, but to me and my family it felt like a loss of our past.
I felt like I was starting over. Having something like that happen makes you think so much more about what you do have - which I know sounds so cliche - but the things I felt the saddest about were gifts I had been given from people or letters from people or photographs or journals. Those were tangible expressions of peoples love and of my past experiences.
Then coming here (Portland) and having to create a life for myself was completely shaped by what had happened. The things that I started collecting or caring about were all shaped by that. In terms of hospitality or being open handed, those things were always a part of me, but the fire made me want to be that way. The fact that things can just disappear so quickly makes me never want to; a) find my value in them or b) hoard them and not be generous with what I have.
I guess that all plays into my thoughts of being grateful for what I have. Whether it’s time or objects or food or a space or whatever. Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by the fact that I have my own apartment, you know?
Lately I’ve even been feeling like, “I have too much. It’s not fair. I shouldn’t have all this.” Then instead of feeling this guilt about it, I try to realize that I have these things so I can open them to other people and invite other people in. I mean, if I were to keep it all to myself, then yes, it would be too much for me. I don’t need it all. I don’t know...
School was probably the best experience in helping me deal with all that. Now that it’s (school) in the past I can look at everything. I can see now that it was a healing time for me. Back then, however, I couldn’t see it.
In my first semester I decided that I wanted to do woodworking. So, I started taking a bunch of woodworking classes. I started doing the weirdest stuff.
I started going on all these nature walks where I would collect things - pine cones, leaves, acorns, random stuff. These weren’t valuable things. They could also sit around my house for months and eventually I would just be done with them, so I’d put them in the fire.
Then I carved all these things I called ‘homes’ for these objects. So there would be this very specific acorn that would fit inside this notched hole inside this wood. It was basically me giving value to these insignificant things. I can see now that it was my way of dealing with everything that I had lost. Things that other people might have seen as insignificant, but to me were special. I guess I had to find a way to honor those things that I had lost or explain to myself that those things were special, even if no one else saw that or felt that way.
My second semester I did this big installation about people’s ideas of home and what makes a home ‘home’.  So I made these four pieces of furniture that were representations of different aspects of the home. I made a bed, a desk, a table and a chair (all of them are just around my house now...) It was my process of figuring out what a home is. Is it a space? Is it the comfort that you get? Is it the things we surround ourselves with? Is it the people? Does it have anything to do with the objects at all? So that was me dealing with the physical place - my house burning down and being gone when it happened.
Later, my thesis was all about community and connecting people. And that became what home was for me. It was me realizing that home wasn’t ‘home’ unless you have people around you that you care about and love. You need to be rooted in your community.
You can have the most amazing home, and the most amazing things that are significant to you, but if they don’t connect you to other people then it’s meaningless.
So, when I think about school I realize that it was this big trajectory of me figuring these things out. In the midst of it, I couldn’t see that. And I know that everyone else in my program thought I was a total freak most of the time... (she laughs).
Like one time we were doing a critique on something I was making, and this visiting speaker started asking me questions about things and was pressing me, and I just started bawling. I could not stop! (at this point I am laughing pretty hard too) There were fifteen people standing around staring at me. I just had to leave and go to the bathroom. It was one of the most awkward situations. It was pretty bad.
GR: So you’ve come through all of that... Now do you feel the relationships are it, or are there still things that you own that you’ll put stock in? Do you just feel that you are in better balance in terms of items and relationships?
JP: I don’t think the fact that I put more value on people discounts the fact that I still put value on things. But, also, there is nothing inside my house that’s of any real monetary value. Except my computer, which is a piece of crap (She isn’t kidding. Her computer has an enormous crack down the middle of the screen).
Almost everything in my house is either found or gifted to me. The things that I have, for the most part, I have them because they remind me of someone or they are part of an experience I had - I bought it on my travels, or I got it at a thrift store, so I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see it go.
I don’t know. I do sometimes think I find myself caring more about my things than I should and I have to check myself, “I really don’t need to care about that stuff so much.” It’s a constant balancing act.
GR: Really, what a perfect - and horrible - life experience for somebody that’s in the position you’re in now, in terms of guiding style. No matter how big that group is now, you still get emails that say, “I love this. This is my life.” And now you’re in this position that you can say, “Well, this stuff is really great and we love it - that’s why we feature it, but at the end of the day this magazine is about the relationships and less about the stuff. The stuff is able to bring people together, and that’s where its importance lies.”
JP: Yeah.
(If you have thoughts, suggestions or questions about Upper Arrow Lake please send us a letter:

Essay: Thoughts On the Interview With Julie Pointer, Part Four: A Cultural Frustration

It seems that the terms we use to define a section of society have a certain shelf life. Either the name and the influences it connotes will be incorporated into larger society or they will fold under the wider birth of some other cultural movement. This applies to almost anything. New fashion gives way to the next pattern. New art bends into fresh forms and mediums. New writing provides a more relevant prescription. 

Eventually, these ‘new’ forms find their way into catalogues, public spaces, and well worn collections on high school library shelves. A subculture drives a stake in the ground and waits to see if anyone else will meet them.  

A long list of those movements that never took hold is hard to muster, mainly because the only ones that would recognize any one name on the list were those that took part in the movement itself. Those movements that made it, however, are quickly recognized. 

Music is one of the easiest places to look in order to see the flow of culture. Gospel and African rhythms laid a foundation for jazz and the blues, revolutionizing the musical landscape. Jazz and the blues then became an incubator for hop hop and rock and roll. Even in the most recent album releases one can find an auditory  genealogy - a DNA of musical history flows through the placement of every note. 

It may be a little more difficult to see in literature, partly because literature and philosophy tie themselves together so tightly, but the same cultural flow is evident. George Orwell’s essay “Inside the Whale” is one of my favorite descriptions of a shift in literature. Orwell starts the essay writing about Henry Miller’s work Tropic of Cancer and the changing environment and style of literature in the 1920s and 30s. He eventually came to see the importance of Miller’s new work, but he wasn’t willing to accept it’s genius when the book was first published.

“When I first opened Tropic of Cancer and saw that it was full of unprintable words, my immediate reaction was a refusal to be impressed.”

I have a personal soft spot for writers of the late 1800s/early 1900s. Europe was still twenty years away from a world war. Idealism, pragmatism, naturalism, and existentialism were all regularly clashing with one another. 

And I feel that there are more than one similarity between the literary culture of Europe in the 1890s and today. Optimism and a modern rustic minimalism have begun to press against the pessimism and excesses of the 1990s. Post-modern literature seems to be easing into a more hopeful attitude. Marked by simplicity, there is a new emphasis on intentional living. A shift that seems to lend itself to a hesitant idealism, measured and gauged by an empirical do-it-yourself and documenting lifestyle. The new generation seems to be spending it’s time looking longingly to the past, searching little by little for  a heritage to hold onto - curators wondering and sifting through a cultural and philosophical flea market. 

I wonder if the elation and frustration felt over Kinfolk Magazine is nothing more than two competing cultures clashing into one another. In October of 2010, Mark Greif wrote about the demise of the hipster in New York Magazine (not the best article). In the wake of the hipster subculture something new will emerge. Maybe the ethics, values, and outlook of Kinfolk are a small part of a larger subculture that will replace the hipster. If this is the case, I can’t help but think that there are definitely worse values that could be encouraged and brought to the forefront. 

Interview: Julie Pointer of Kinfolk Magazine, Part Four

GR: We talked earlier about people having a frustration with the magazine. The frustration being that a lifestyle lived around hospitality, reflection and thoughtful living is unrealistic to the extent that it’s portrayed in the magazine.
JP: I definitely think there are values pressed upon people. Well, not pressed upon, but represented. Values of family, friends, time spent together, a diminished focus on money and prestige... In the same way that certain philosophies can repel people, the same can be said for values. Someone can say that this thing is important to me, while others might say that it holds less importance.
So, I think that’s why we see and hear from people at both ends of the spectrum.
Some people can be so moved by the magazine that they will send long emails explaining how they see themselves in the pages, complimenting it far above what we ever would have anticipated. A few people might even elevate the magazine above what we would ever intend. Things that I never would imagine someone might write about Oprah magazine.
Then you have other people who might dislike what we are doing to the point of anger. A lot of the frustration stemming from a belief that the values and lifestyle portrayed is too fantastical, too idealistic and ultimately completely unrealistic. They might think it is only for yuppies or trust funders. There is a sense that what we are doing is almost evil - also thoughts and feelings I wouldn’t expect someone to write or think about Oprah magazine.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the norm today is to be tolerant of everything; which in reality is its own intolerance to some extent. In the same way, the values of the magazine can rightly be seen to be intolerant of certain things. So, when people feel excluded from that they might get worked up.
GR: I would say, however, that there is rarely an essay that tries to convince anyone of anything. Just about everything in the magazine is autobiographical or a memoir in one way or another. I don’t hear it saying, “you should do this.” But I hear it often saying, “This is how I live. Does it connect to you in some way?”
All of this kind of leads to an essay you wrote in volume three. You wrote a very personal account of time alone - an obviously large focus in the magazine, and a topic that can easily lend itself to vulnerability.
Ok, let me read a little piece here...
JP: I don’t get my writing read to me often.
GR: Actually, when I was around Nathan, last Saturday, I started reading a section of the latest volume and he couldn’t even handle it. He ended up walking away laughing.
JP: Was it his intro or something?
GR: No, but it was a very specific... Oh what was it about? (*I pull out the volume and start flipping through it) It for sure wasn’t a story you would read out loud. Anyway, I can’t find it.
Ok, back to your article. So, you’re writing about how you want a quiet life. Then you say,
“I want to notice even the smallest things, to stay immediate to my surroundings. But daily distraction can be so fragmenting, so addictive, and the kind of attentive patience I seek requires clarity of mind. To find this clearheadedness, I must make a commitment to do so - I have to say no to the constant, frenzied consumption of ‘needs’ (more often wants and excesses), and I have to make room for the quiet, contented yes I actually desire.”
(Kinfolk Magazine, Vol. 3, “A Quiet Life”, p. 8)
Later you write about how it’s a generous gift to be away from distractions and spend time alone. That was the other theme that seems big in your life of doing the dinners, and something I want your thoughts on.
The subject matter of your writing demonstrates a lack of taking things for granted. Even in gift giving and receiving gifts, you talk about gifts being graciously presented things that you don’t deserve. In the same way, when you talk about time with your grandparents or time alone, it never comes with a sense of entitlement.
Do you feel that that is a central piece of your life? Do you feel that that is something important? That there is no expectation on what life should present to you and that you have to actually make spaces for these things; so when they do occur they are things that are blessings as opposed to, “Oh, ok. Finally this happened. I’ve been waiting for this?”
JP: Um. That is a really interesting way of articulating it, and I would say that I agree with you. I don’t know that I’ve thought about it in those words specifically.
I do think that I try to think about each part of my life as a gift, to always be learning how to be thankful for whatever circumstance I’m in. I think something that I’ve focused on a lot is living intentionally and not letting things pass me by. Or not noticing when things are happening to me because if I’m not noticing then I’m not being grateful for them. I don’t know.
So, when I... Like the fact that I do have time to spend alone or go off and be in quiet or be with family. I want to take advantage of those things and I don’t think they just happen if you’re not paying attention. You know?
If I’m here all day alone, I could spend it just watching T.V. or dittling around on the internet - sometimes I do find myself doing that.
So, I write things like that (the article), and when I write things like that it reminds me how I want to live. Sometimes I need to call myself back to that way of living - a life that is grateful and appreciative. It reminds me to notice what I have and take advantage of it.
I think one of the - and I knew this before - things that taught me that the most was that a few months before I moved up here - maybe I’ve told you this - my families house burned down.
GR: No. I haven’t heard this.

Essay: Thoughts On the Interview With Julie Pointer, Part Three: Working Relations

Julie brings up a difficult dilemma. How do you act towards friends that become partners? When the relational spaces, often times reserved for lounging and jokes, turn into office meetings and  agendas?

Living in a young city lend itself to start-up companies or causes of all shapes and sizes.  Inevitably, passions born in conversations over coffee or a beer evolve. Hobbies become day jobs and friends - co-workers. 

In Cronopios and Famas, Julio Cortázar does justice to the give and take that can define these new working relationships:

“My faithful secretary takes care of, or would like to take care of, everything in my office. We pass the day cheerfully, carrying on a friendly battle for jurisdiction, smilingly we undermine and countermine, there are sallies and retreats, captures and rescues. But she has time for it all, she not only tries to dominate the office, but also, scrupulously, fulfills her duties. Words for example, not a day goes by that she doesn’t polish them up, brush them off, she files them in neat orderliness, grooms and readies them for their daily functions. Should an expendable adjective pop out of my mouth…there she is, pencil in hand to trap and kill it, not even leaving it time to weld itself to the rest of the sentence and , through sloppy habit or neglect, survive.”

Julio Cortázar, Cronopios and Famas. New Directions Books, 1999. p. 57.

However, is this what relationships with close friends eventually become? Are relations intended for relief always reduced to a “friendly battle for jurisdiction”?

The more I thought about this dynamic, the more I wondered if I was looking at it the wrong way. I wasn’t taking into consideration the complexity of relationships, or the complexities of commerce for that matter. 

The same things that are true of good friendships are true of good business, and the lessons learned from one can be heeded in the other. Maybe difficulties only arise when  well established and inflexible relational habits must be altered or changed for the business to be successful. 

Although, friendships that are composed of more malleable materials - open communication, mutual excitement, a trust in the other’s abilities - can lead to wild success. Work hours and home hours begin to blur as ideas or concepts are mulled over by two critical minds instead of one. Where would the airline industry be if two brothers in North Carolina weren’t able to talk and motivate one another?

Donald Hall, in his book Life Work, explains that personal relationships in business are not only helpful, but can sometimes be essential.

“Barry Moser and I will do children’s books together. We have met once only, and begin to know each other by letter. Collaboration can be difficult, or disastrous, even when one artist works in sentences and the other in pigment. We need each to develop a feeling for the other, what the other loves and hates, what he is best at. Just now, he has sent me the draft of a lecture he will deliver to the American Booksellers’ Association, and I feel the pleasure and relief of affinity.”

Donald Hall, Life Work. Beacon Press, 1993. p. 57.

Interview: Julie Pointer of Kinfolk Magazine, Part Three

GR: So do you send follow-up stuff to people?
JP: Yeah I do. A lot of the time. Especially after serious conversations with people; I’ll always send follow-up things. If I have an argument with someone, I’ll always send a follow-up letter that explains what I was trying to say. I think it really irritates people sometimes.
GR: It makes it a lot harder to be mad at you if you readdress the issue. As long as it’s not a wound people don’t want to bring up.
JP: I guess that’s just something I’ve had to reconcile myself to. That I can never think of what I actually want to say in the moment. Where most of the time I can.
GR: Does any of that make you  like doing the writing (for Kinfolk)?
JP: Yeah, I do. When I have a topic to write on I really enjoy it, as opposed to self reflection. When when I write for myself it’s usually journaling. I don’t sit around giving myself topics to write about.
But I always enjoy writing when I’m given the opportunity to write.
GR: Ok, I really like your stuff. Let me read a section, and I want to hear your follow-up thoughts on it.
From “How To Be Neighborly Gift Giving”:
“This act of unfolding one’s self towards others is that beginning of the act of hospitality, and attitude that must be practiced daily to become habit-forming. The word ‘hospitality’ has often been relegated to stiff, stuffy ideas of chocolates on pillows and pressing the sheets just so, but it has much more to do with the way you posture your body towards the world and the people within it.”
First of all, it’s great the way you talk about hospitality in general, but also the idea of gift giving. You talk later in the article about how you never want to show up empty handed when you go to someones house.
How much do you think those topics are your territory to define and explain to the reader as someone that writes for Kinfolk? Because you have a strange place in that you are writing about topics in the magazine, but you are also having to consciously portray those ways of living in person with the dinners. So, what are your thoughts on that idea of hospitality and how your role is relegated to that work?   
JP: Well, I think that...Sometimes I think if I had my way in life, as in a job, my life would just be... Well, my ultimate goal would be to have a bed in breakfast where...
GR: A humble goal, by the way...
JP: A place where that’s an open door. A place where people are always coming in, getting fed, and retreating; a relaxing, inspiring, and quiet place . A place where there’s always food, baking... a nice hospitable place to be.
I think because that isn’t a part of my life right now, I try and bring those aspects into whatever I’m doing.
For the magazine, right now, I’m modeling the way I would like to live, or treat people. In that way, during my interactions with people at the dinners or those I meet with for the magazine, I would ideally like to convey the feeling of this fictitious warm place, without actually having a place.
That could mean taking a lot of time to respond to every email I get and not just dashing off some copy and pasted email. Actually responding to them intentionally and thoughtfully; giving them a personal and candid answer. I know when I get responses like that, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like, “Oh, this person actually read what I wrote and thought about it. They didn’t just ignore me.” Now, I think we all try to do that, but …
GR: Is it worrying that success can lead you to a place where that kind of attention is unreasonable?
JP: Oh, yeah. It’s very demanding. It also can be a huge burden to have to do that. But it’s still something I think we have to find important. We want to be grateful in the way we interact with those that contribute to the magazine. Whether that’s sending ‘thank you’ notes to everyone who participates in the dinner, or sending contributors, who are our friends, birthday gifts. It might even mean sending random ‘thank you’ gifts without a particular reason. We don’t want to just treat the people we interact with as business relationships. We want to show them that we actually care about them, because we do care about them, it isn’t an act. It’s real.
Or when we have a photo shoot, we want to take care of the people that are a part of it.
We don’t want to be careless about what we’re doing.
GR: Do you ever see that being a problem? Because, if you look at business as relationships, or interactions through a business lens, you are setting yourself up to make a hard decision on something that someone put work, effort, and possibly a little of themselves into.
JP: It can be hard.
GR: Do you feel like those are interactions you have to have in life and relationship everyday anyway?
JP: Yeah, I guess. It has proved challenging. Especially for Nathan, I think. He works to separate business... I don’t know that there is a way to separate it anymore. So, people do get their feelings hurt sometimes. Or there have been times when promises have been made, or enthusiasm has been shown and we have to backpedal out of it. That can be awkward. It’s hard and it makes me feel bad. Those, I guess, are the kinds of things I stress about.
GR: That’s tough though, because those are just growth issues too.
JP: Yeah. I think no matter what, whether it’s a business relationship or a personal relationship or anything else, it’s hard for me to turn down people or to disappoint them. I think in some circumstances, people are less attached to things than I am. I always feel bad if I think that I’m disappointing someone. It’s difficult for me. That’s probably been one of the hardest things about the job.
On the other hand, there is also something really great about the way my job and my personal life are interlaced, and I can’t complain about that, but there are times when hospitality becomes obligatory. That’s really hard.
GR: Give me an example:
JP: So, we’ll be doing a photoshoot and...I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t be this transparent.
GR: I don’t have to use it all...
(Julie gave an example of working a long weekend, then finding out later that another photo shoot had been tact on the end of an already long week. She described that it was hard to “put on a good face” when all she wanted to do was be alone. One small quote I loved was when she did refer to herself as “a total grump”.)
JP: So there are times when I feel like , “I don’t want to be happy about this right now! I don’t want to be hospitable at the moment!”
Moments like that, when my feelings are not in line with what I have to do, are a...challenge, but they’re probably good for me.
GR: “Good?”
JP: I don’t know. ‘Good’, I suppose in one sense it’s a life lesson that we are called to be open handed and hospitable, even when we don’t feel like it.

Essay: Thoughts On the Interview With Julie Pointer, Part Two: Neighbors and Friends

After transcribing the interview with Julie, I couldn’t help but feel that I had read a similar story of neighborly community. I searched and searched through books on the shelf until I remembered who Julie, and her story, reminded me of.

In 1952, Harper and Row published Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness. The book takes the reader through her life as a radical searching for a community to believe in. After years of searching, Dorothy found her community - and cause - in the Catholic Workers movement of the 1930s. 

Prior to her conversion into Catholicism, however, Dorothy moved amongst the circles of the literary elite and social radicals of her day. And in that time, many of her friends grew to love the rural countryside and bought homes, or seconds homes, away from the city in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. Eventually, Dorothy followed suit and settled in the then rustic beachfront of Staten Island. 

There she found exactly what she expected to find, a cheap and calming place to write. Unexpectedly, she also discovered a community and one of the happiest times of her life.

“The little house was furnished very simply with a driftwood stove in one corner, plenty of books, comfortable chairs and couches. My writing table faced the window where I could look out at the water all day. On the walls hung the fruits of our collecting - horseshoe crabs, spider crabs, the she of a huge sea turtle, whelks’ cocoons, hanging like false curls, several mounted fish heads, boards covered with starfish, sea horses, pipe and file fish, all picked up in little pools at low tide.

Down the beach were a Belgian couple; next door in an old hotel was an Italian woman from Bleeker Street who took boarders during the summer. The grocer and the hardware store-keeper a mile away in the village were Irish. There were five other bungalows in our small colony, three occupied by Catholic families, and the other two by my own friends who moved there after I did. They were Russian and Rumanian Jews.

On the sands in a tiny shack lived a beachcomber fisherman who was a friend to the entire neighborhood. “Everybody says to me, ‘Lefty, why don’t you get to work this winter and do some painting for me?’ But what happens when I do get work? Last spring I painted Mr. Cleary’s house for him and I kept drinking liquor that he sells. By the time I got through I didn’t have a cent of money coming to me, but he handed me a bill for ten dollars. Money is bad for me, I know it. I can trade my fish and clams for fuel and food and what else do I need?” And he waved his arms expansively around and indicated the beauties of his life…

I often sat down on the sand in front of his cabin in a steamer chair which he kept especially for me, and watched him cook.

…Late in the afternoon the wind dropped, the door of Lefty’s shack stood open and he sat there contemplating the sunset. The waves lapped the shore, tinkling among the shells and pebbles, and there was an acrid odor of smoke in the air. Down the beach, the Belgians were working, loading rock into a small cart which looked like a tumbril, drawn by a bony white horse. They stopped as thought in prayer, outlined against the brilliant sky, and as I watched, the Chapel bell at St. Joseph’s rang the Angelus. I found myself praying, praying with thanksgiving, praying with open eyes while I watched the workers on the beach and the sunset, and listened to the sound of the waves and the scream of snowy gulls.

…“Coffee?” Lefty asked me, and I accepted the big cup from his hand and bit into a thick slice of buttered toast with fried mushrooms on top.

…We enjoyed our neighbors and liked to talk with them and about them.” 

- Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness. Harper and Row, 1952. p. 116.

I know this isn’t the only written example and memoir that describes great community. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes his picturesque life in Paris. In Return to Paradise, Michener  goes into depth on the numerous tucked away utopian locales that could be found in the south pacific during the 1940s and 50s. With all that in mind, Day gives such a modest and attainable account of life neighborhood life. I can’t help but think that there’s more life outside our doors than we know and that some version of a ‘Lefty’ exists in almost every neighborhood across the US. 

In Dark Age Ahead, by Jane Jacobs, Jacob’s fears for the future because of our growing independence from those we live in close proximity to. She warns that large problems can start to occur when there is a breakdown of family and community. 

“A community is a complex organism with complicated resources that grow gradually and organically. Its resources fall into three main categories.

…First, there are resources that all families need and that virtually none can provide for themselves…affordable housing…publicly funded transportation…water and sewage systems…

…Items in the second category are provided more informally by the community but are mostly tangible. They consist of…commercial establishments…churches…concerts….festivals…

…The third and final category of community resources in thoroughly informal, thoroughly intangible, and probably the most important: speaking relationships among neighbors and acquaintances in addition to friends.

…For communities to exist, people must encounter one another in person. These encounters must include more than best friends or colleagues at work. They must include diverse people who share the neighborhood, and often enough share its needs.”

- Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead. Random House, 2004. p. 34.

I know she is right to be concerned, because I feel it in myself. Small talk used to be a natural act done with easy and happiness, but too often I treat it like a chore. Because of this, I have begun to loose any kind of ease in which I used to make casual conversation. Internally, I over analyze social interactions and become self-involved to the point of reclusion. 

To put it bluntly, I am selfish and self-absorbed. I am concerned with myself, and only with the person I am talking to in as much as it involves their perception of me. I spend a great deal of time thinking about how I am projected, but very little time thinking about: how I can contribute to my neighborhood, how others in my community can influence me, or how I can just relax and enjoy what life around other people looks and feels like. 

I’m sure Julie has spent a long time, consciously and subconsciously, thinking about the complex networks and interactions that people have with one another. It shows in the dinners themselves, but also in Julie’s friendships and hospitality. I imagine there is always a pot of coffee on and waiting for a neighbor in Julie’s apartment, although I doubt the fried mushroom toast is as common.

Final thoughts.

This concept is part of the reason I wanted to contact Julie in the first place. Julie’s dinners, and Kinfolk Magazine as a whole, spend a great deal of time emphasizing the patient lifestyle required to leave our own neurosis on our doorsteps when we walk outside. I think the root is in something Julie and I didn’t spend much time on, and may better served in a conversation with Nathan Williams sometime down the road, and that is an embodiment of quiet curiosity. The magazine looks at common activities and interactions in our world through a lens that is always asking, “why?”.  Why it’s a good way to live will have to wait for another interview, but I think the success of the work they are doing speaks volumes about a more universal desire to live a thoughtful and curious life. 

Interview: Julie Pointer of Kinfolk Magazine, Part Two

GR: What did you do? Painting? Drawing?
JP: A little bit of everything. I went to a large public high school, but attended a little sub art academy within the school. Basically it meant that I took more art classes, and all my other classes were meant to be intertwined. For example, if in art class we were learning about an artist or a time period that teacher would coordinate with the history teacher. So we were also learning about art in the context of history.
GR: So did you not have to take history classes?
JP: No, I did. I always loved art, but that definitely channeled me into drawing, printmaking, and painting. Then when I went to college every different year when I took another class I wanted that to be my major. For a while I thought I was going to be a sociology major, literature major, and then when it came down to it I ended up being an art major after all.
GR: You could have majored in liberal arts.
JP: Well, I did go to a liberal arts college. So, I got to take classes in all those things. I just ended up getting interested by all the topics. All those things definitely still interest me. I think I could have majored in any of them and been happy, but I ended up in fine art with a minor in english. Mostly it was a lot of printmaking and collage. It was all working with my hands in a certain kind of way.
GR: When did that shift happen in college from the drawing and painting you were doing in high school to the collage and printmaking work?
JP: I mean, I did all that stuff, but I had to have a focus. I loved my education, but I don’t think there was a very big emphasis on the range of careers I could have in the arts. I felt that I mostly learned I could be and art teacher, while doing my own art on the side.
GR: So, you just assumed you would go into the fold with your parents and sisters.
JP: Yeah, but I never wanted to. I just didn’t know ‘what I was going to do after this.’ I was not prepared for a career at all.
GR: You did major in art - you kind of put yourself in that position.
JP: I know. However, on the other side of things, there was starting to be this push towards the graphic arts and digital arts, because that seemed to be more profitable and employable. But that did not appeal to me at all - sitting in front of a computer.
I think that’s what pushed me towards printmaking and collage. They embodied what I’ve always loved about art - making order out of chaos, and that’s what I would do when I was collaging. I would take all these disparate parts and put them together into something I liked the look of. It worked for printmaking too. Now that I can look back and see the journey, I understand that that is the common thread.
I feel like I do have to explain to my extended family that I love doing those things (drawing, painting) but they aren’t those kinds of things where I don’t feel alive if I’m not doing them.
They still ask me, “Oh, are you getting to do your art?” Because, to them my art means my printmaking, my drawing, my painting...making a mark on paper. You know when people talk about writers, they always say, “don’t write unless you feel like you would die if you weren’t writing.” In that way, I still do those things, but I don’t feel like I will shrivel up and die if I don’t do them. I never felt like I was supposed to be some big painter.
GR: So what would be the art now? The dinners (Kinfolk series)? Arranging for photo shoots?
JP: I’ve kind of struggled with that this past year. I’m still trying to figure out what that is.
GR: There is nothing you do that you feel like you need to do?
JP: Well, I know that spaces are really important to me. The dinners are created environments, but I don’t feel super connected to them anymore. They’ve kind of taken on a life of their own. At this point I wouldn’t say they are an expression of me.
I think in this time period the thing I am doing that is ‘creating order out of chaos’ is on the relational and social side of things. So, for each dinner I’m taking a city - this broad landscape of people, which could be considered chaos, and hand selecting people to be part of this experience - creating something with the people that are a part of it.
It’s very different than making a traditional art piece or building something or making a specific environment.
GR: Then is that still art to you? Does it still count if it’s not something you can quantify through this art lens?
JP: Yeah, I don’t know. I guess I don’t know that I would call it art, but I think doing something like that satiates my need for that kind of making or expressing myself. Lately, though, I have felt a little creatively dry. I don’t yet have an understanding of where I can make something within that.
I think when I’m feeling that way I turn to my house and it becomes the place I’m inspired.
So, I’ll move stuff around or make a gift for someone. It comes out in very small ways; not necessarily ways that are meant to be seen by anyone else, but it fulfills me, I suppose.
I didn’t realize at all that I didn’t need to be art making consistently until I went to grad school (a combination program between the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft) and was doing very different things from those I had already done in my former life.
I would make items out of wood and build things. Those then became art forms, even though they were very practical.
In my first year I did these two big installations, curating objects and placing them into a space in order to create a certain kind of experience. My thesis was then a big dinner I held for the neighborhood; which was the first time my art shifted into more of a social thing. It was more about the people that were there than the esthetics of it.
GR: When you were doing it, were you looking at it as something practical? Like, “this is something that can get me a job.”
JP: Hmmm. Not really.
GR: So you were thinking “I’ll just do this. Then when I get out of school I’ll do something completely different?”
JP: I thought it might translate by being a stylist or set design or designing for a retail space.
There were months, however, when I day dreamed about working for various institutions and being a kind of alternative events person. Hosting things that would bring people together in an interesting way. It could be an art opening or a fundraising dinner.
For a while I was convinced that I wanted to work at YU (contemporary art space in Portland). I actually starting talking to them there. However, I think I realized soon after that I liked the concept there, but contemporary art is something I struggle with.
GR: Was there ever a piece of you that wanted to go into research or behavioral science, like in Personal Space (Robert Sommer)? More psychological uses of your background?
JP: Definitely. One of the things I enjoyed the most about my thesis project was being able to write about it, and reading all this psychological research about space, environments and how people interact. I enjoyed delving into the sociology, science and philosophy of it.
One of the ways I thought it could be useful and profitable was to apply my work to spaces that are supposed to be inviting, healing and calming - like hospitals and elderly care facilities - which are also the last places people want to be. (aesthetically) Most are not healing in any way. They’re just really sterile, cold and drab. Especially for people visiting, it’s not the kind of place anyone wants to visit; which does not help the process of wanting to heal people.
So I considered being a consultant for healing facilities, but I realized that my degree wasn’t specialized enough. A lot of that work is more specific to a different kind of degree.
GR: Which is so strange, because anyway you go about that work you are going to be missing a piece of what needs to be done. I feel like the technical aspect - codes, regulations, specifications for healthcare - is much easier to learn on the job than the intuitive aesthetic that would need to be applied.
JP: I think we need a liaison in those places. I’ve heard about some great elderly care facilities where there is gardening, animals, places to explore , community, events, and all these other things going on. The people are so much happier and they actually have a thriving life, as opposed to falling apart in an old person’s home. You know?
GR: Yeah.
JP: Back to school. There was a large focus on: a) the entrepreneurial aspect of what we were doing and b) the need to help people. There was a huge social side of it. Anything we did had to be about someone else.  
There always had to be a client, but there also was a large bent towards doing something for the greater good of society.
GR: Which is strange, because I would assume art school is less outwardly focused and more about self expression.
JP: And that’s why this program was so unique. Doing that program completely changed me as a person, for multiple reasons. It was very influential in how I think about my work.
Art school is usually all about expressing yourself and getting to the top, being a big name. It’s very competitive and it’s not collaborative in any sense of the word. People don’t want to work together because they want to be the one to rise to the top. But this (PNCA/OCAC) program was not like that at all.
It’s partly like that because everyone in the program is coming from so many different backgrounds with different focuses and different desires. So it was easy for us to collaborate. Also, how we worked with the community. We got other businesses, artists and makers involved and that helped us work together for the good of everyone.
GR: Were you writing a lot during this time?
JP: Yeah, in different ways. The first year had a large focus on entrepreneurial studies. A lot of the writing was more about writing business plans, as opposed to self reflection. The second year, however, was the thesis year. I did a lot of writing then. I think my thesis was something like 150 pages.
GR: Was it all about that one dinner?
JP: The thesis was compiled of a lot of things. There was a lot of background information and significant study, explaining why you chose every part of the project you chose. In the research section, I spent a lot of time talking about the sociological ideas of why people don’t talk to their neighbors or what elements of society attribute to us not talking to those around us. I wrote about technology, how things have strayed from how they used to be - relying on people. How our society has become super independent. We all just want to do things for ourselves.
I also got into the psychology of spaces - eating together, eating rituals.
Eating together is the big equalizer, because everyone knows what to do when they sit down at the dinner table. So, it works to break down those awkward social barriers.
Also, because I was making so much for the dinner I researched the items themselves.
GR: Like utensils?
JP: Yeah, and how things can make us feel connected to an experience.
For example, I started leaving notes for people six months before the dinner.
GR: Wait, in their mailbox? Full sized letters? Pre-invitations?
JP: I think in November I wrote these letters to everyone on the street: “I’m doing this project. I want to have this big dinner in May. There will be things I will be doing leading up to it. If you want to be a part of it...”
The people that responded were the people I continued to connect with.
GR: Did some people just never respond?
JP: Some people never responded; which was fine. But a lot of people responded with, “That’s so awesome. I can’t wait.” Those people were really engaged, and from there it was just a series of different notes. I also put together this booklet of neighborhood history and a bunch of people contributed recipes and a mix of other things. So, some of my notes were asking for things like that.
One day I did an art making session with a bunch of the kids from the neighborhood.
A month or two before I made these wreaths and gave them to everyone that was involved in the dinner or was attending. The people involved would then hang them on their doors, so the other neighbors knew they were involved. It was really cool.
It was also something that was completely out of my personal comfort zone.
GR: That’s a strange thing to do. You’re getting together a big group of people that may or may not know each other.
JP: It was really bizarre for me. I’m pretty shy and don’t like putting myself out there in that way.
I think the most extreme thing I ever did was visit a couple around the corner on SE Taylor, who everyone else involved said would love to be a part of it.
They were an old couple in their eighties. So, one day I showed up on their door with a plate of cookies. Keep in mind, they had no idea who I was, and they just invited me in. We sat down. They served me some coffee. They gave me some Japanese candy... It was one of the most out-there things I’ve done.
GR: I think this story is in Kinfolk. (Vol. 6, “How To Be Neighborly: Gift Giving”, p. 37)
JP: It is actually... It was just really cool to see how people responded. They were very gracious.
One of the neighbors next door had a son that got super into it. So, we were like pen pals.
It was also a time, like I say in the article, when I felt really alone in Portland. I think I was realizing some things. Seeing the faith of people around here that didn’t even know me was really encouraging.
When the actual dinner happened, it was amazing to see everyone show up and see how warm they all were, because they had all been conditioned for knowing what to expect. Everyone was so happy. I’m not sure... It’s hard to explain. It was just really amazing.
GR: From the experience, do you think you realized that people are more hospitable and inviting than society allows them to be? Or that people are conditioned in society to want their space, but in reality no one really wants as much space as they’re given?
JP: I definitely think that’s part of it. People are more hungry to connect with the people around them than they lead on. It becomes easy to not connect. I think we are preconditioned to not reach out to people. So, sometimes people need to be given an opportunity, or mediator, to break down these social barriers. I think the project did this well. The mediator between me and everyone else become the objects I gave them leading up to the dinner.
I take that back, the dinner itself was the actual mediator, because it was the reason why I was connecting to them in the first place.
It was a situation that felt safe. It was in the neighborhood. They didn’t have to leave. It was with some faces they recognized. This all made it so much easier to approach than if it were just some random meet and greet in the park.
That was a really interesting lesson for me. Similarly, now in my job, the events we do - the dinners - are an opportunity for people to get involved with a community of people that they might not necessarily connect with or know. It also gives them a space to reach out and find excuses to collaborate. We kind of force people to be a little more collaborative than they might want to be on their own, mainly because we like getting a lot of people involved. Sometimes, though, that’s hard for people. Chefs and others that are used to running the show can have the hardest time. They’re forced to work with other people and no one is ever the ‘headliner’.

Interview: Julie Pointer of Kinfolk Magazine, Part One

I showed up to Julie’s apartment on the Eastside of Portland with a pineapple, eggnog, and a carton of grapefruit juice. We had agreed to have brunch at her house for the interview, and she told me not to bring anything other than some fruit and some juice. The eggnog was an in-game decision while walking the isles of the grocery store. I had no way of passing up the first carton of eggnog I had seen on the shelves since last Christmas. Only on the drive to her house did I realize that a pineapple in November was a bad move when interviewing someone who works for a seasonally inspired lifestyle magazine, many of whom’s articles focus on foods being eaten in the proper season.
“Yeah, I really like pineapple. I didn’t think about it.That goes for the eggnog too.”
“I love eggnog. So don’t be sorry, but I didn’t even know they were selling it.”
“I know, right? Everyone is laying the Christmas foundations. I saw Christmas stockings for sale before Halloween.”
“It’s that time of the year... Take your coat off. Feel free to look around. Stay a while.”
The space was everything I would have expected, minus any hint of pretense. It was the quirky studio that any person in their late twenties would find in a city after a few years getting the lay of the land. The entire apartment was a perfect balance of near excessive style and realistic modesty.
From a small (putting it nicely) kitchen you walk out into a large open studio space broken into two live spaces.
“These ceilings must be 15 feet high.”
They were actual 15 foot ceilings. My wife and I had just bought a little house across the river that bordered the suburbs. Walking into her 700 sqft (just a guess) studio with it’s 15 foot ceilings, fireplace, flea market decorating, located only a block or two from four of the best neighborhoods in Portland made me feel more than a little envious.
“How did you even find this place?”
“A friend found it for me when I was moving to Portland.”
“You know it’s incredible, right? I mean, places like this are hard to find.”
“I have good friends.”
“You do have good friends.”
“Speaking of, Laura (Dart, photographer), lives right above me, but in her place the wall between those two closets is removed. It gives her a whole other room.”
“Ahh, you don’t need it.”
“Well. I think she pays more for it anyway.”
She had a fire going in the fireplace when I got there, so the whole apartment smelled like we were in a cabin.
I think the pineapple was a pleasant surprise(?). She gave me a knife and a cutting board.
I had no idea how to cut a pineapple. I faked it, because maybe she didn’t know how to cut one either.
“Oh wow, is this an old prayer chair? They don’t make these anymore”
“Where did you get all of this stuff?”
“The chair, the other one like it, and my table - and a lot of other things for that matter - came from this lady’s shop off Yamhill. It was the first place I went when I was broke and needed to fill my apartment. I think I got all three for like $45.”
“That’s a crime.”
“It was a few years ago. She’s caught on since and the place isn’t like it used to be.”
“I’m not surprised. Eventually you catch on when people that look poorer than you are spending the equivalent of your entire paycheck in your shop.”
After I was done wandering through her small apartment and poked at the fire a couple times brunch was ready.
“You’re going to be the first to try this pancake recipe. It’s part of the book Nathan (Williams, Kinfolk) and the rest of us have been working on.”
“Parker (Fitzgerald, photographer) was telling me about that. You guys have been going all over the place. I think he said he just got back from Copenhagen?”
“Luckily, and unluckily, I haven’t had to travel too much for it.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t want to leave this place either.”
The pancakes were incredible, and just what you want from a new recipe. Enough familiar flavors to tell you what you’re eating, but a few subtle surprises to make you ask what makes it different. It only took one meal for me to know that the book will take off as fast as the magazine has.
When we had finished eating we sat down on some rustic vintage chairs by the fire. My chair was more comfortable than it looked, and I sunk down - putting my feet up on her bed. I’m not sure how I expected to be taken seriously during the interview.
GR: So you were telling me your parents were both teachers?
JP: No, just my dad. My dad is a history professor and has done that his whole career. My mom runs off campus programs; helping students travel, get visas, all that.
GR: Oh, and sorry about putting my feet up on the bed...
JP: I’ve actually considered putting a list together (pointing to the wall above her bed) of all the people that have sat on my bed, slept in my bed - not with me necessarily -, because I don’t have a couch. Whenever I have people over there are like six people lying across the bed. So, I’m not particular about...
GR: Yeah, I’m sure that wouldn’t be awkward...
JP: Well, no... I would probably need to quantify it before anyone random looked at the list.
GR: Could be a cautionary tale.
JP: But, it’s just that after 3 ½ years there have been a lot of visitors, a lot of people here, a lot of parties.
GR: Do you ever plan on moving out of this place?
JP: Well, there are times I really want my own house, but obviously life circumstances will not allow for that at the moment. If something better came along I would move out.
GR: Have you ever thought about moving back in with mom and dad (California)?
JP: No.
GR: Even though they have a map. (During brunch, Julie explained to me that she had given her mom a map of the relationships and friends she had in Portland so she could talk familiarly about her friends)
JP: I really love Santa Barbara, but I’m not in a real rush to move back there. So, for now, I’m in Portland.
GR: Back to family, what do your grandparents do?
JP: On my mom’s side, my grandpa is/was a minister and taught philosophy at a small Christian college in Hoton, New York. Over in rural western New York, like an hour from Buffalo and that’s where my mom grew up from the time she was ten. My grandparents still live in that town and my mom and dad met there when they were going to the college. My grandma was a teacher for a long time, a reading specialist - among other things. They’re both still super active. They’re 85 and they take care of everyone in their town. They talk about going up to “the old person’s home and taking care of the old people”.
GR: Cause they’re not in that category.
JP: They’re definitely starting to slow down, but up to five years ago my grandpa was still going windsurfing...
GR: I don’t think I could do that now.
JP: He still goes on mile long walks in the woods by his house. He lives in a neighborhood, but has woods to the back of his property. Every spring my grandpa makes maple syrup from the maple trees around his house. He is amazing.
GR: So he was part of the older generation, when DIY was a part of life.
JP: Yeah, I would say I get about 70 percent of my DNA directly from my grandfather. His whole basement is full of collected treasures. He makes wooden spoons. He collects weird stuff, like the metal heads of axes and meat grinders.
GR: Is it all from garage sales or does he just pick these up on his walks in the woods?
JP: No, no. I’m not sure. And my aunt, who also works at Westmont (College, where her father teaches), is the president there. She actually went there and now she’s the president.
Then on my dad’s side my grandpa was a kind of general contractor for big building projects. He helped oversee a bunch of high rises in Chicago and all over the place and my grandma never had paid work, but was a mother.
My dad is one of four, both he and one of his brothers are history professors.
GR: How does that even happen? So, they both got their PHDs in history?
JP: Yeah.
GR: I bet those Christmas dinners are just...
JP: Oh man... No, they’re really smart and intellectual, but they’re also really down to earth. I would even say that my mom’s side has more heady, intellectual conversationalists, just because everyone in that family is like that. My aunt has like three PHDs. My one uncle teaches education, and my other uncle is a high school english teacher. Just everyone, are teachers. Both of my sisters are also teachers.
GR: College level?
JP: My oldest sister is a high school chemistry teacher and the middle sister teaches second grade.
GR: And how much younger are you than them?
JP: I’m only 18 months apart from my middle sister, and my oldest sister is, 3 ½ years.
GR: Oh wow, so all girls. Your dad didn’t get much room in that house.
JP: Actually, I was supposed to be a boy. Everyone in my family was disappointed when I was born.
GR: There goes your self esteem.
JP: I was the tomboy though growing up. I always wanted to play sports
GR: So, something in you knew that you were supposed to be a boy.
JP: Yeah, I was the one that played softball, and would play catch with my dad. I was always wanting to build things and all that. But I think if I had been in a different setting I wouldn’t have been as into those kinds of things.
I mean, I always loved to do art, but back then I didn’t know there were so many ways to pursue art. The only way I knew how to do it was through fine art. I really enjoyed it back then, but I don’t think I ever would have imagined making a living doing it.