Grim. Bleak. Sad. Absurd. Frustrating. Weary. What to do in times like these? Exercise, eat healthy food, get some rest, go to some parties, throw some parties, see a show, make some art, meditate, take a nap, take a vacation, call a friend, hug someone, have a lot of great sex. All good options.
Anything else? What about changing your media diet?
A recent op-ed in the New York Times supposed that soon, people who enjoy the spoils of cutting the cable TV cord will soon find themselves paying just as much in individual streaming subscription fees (for content that they don’t really want) than they were when they had cable service.
TV is an escape from the bleakness of our time. Talking about series we are watching has come to represent a tiny step back toward community, or at least, communal experiences.
I really enjoy great content, but I am increasingly weary from the amount of visual, video information that I seek and take in — and annoyed at the amount of time I spend watching it. Furthermore, the proliferation of streaming options is starting to feel as dystopian to me as everything else does — “if they are sitting home, binge watching, they can’t be paying much attention to what is going on in the real world.”
So what? I am not the type of person who wants to eschew access to film and TV entirely. But, I can make different choices about what, when, and how much I watch.
Last night, after a much needed trip to the gym, I watched, “The Biggest Little Farm,” a documentary that I had meant to see on the big screen. Directed by John Chester, the farmer (who is also a filmmaker), and also featuring his wife, Molly, a chef, as well as their 60 person staff including men who have farmed the Chesters’ land through five previous landowners, and a team of wwoofers who help work the farm, this is ultimately a story about nature. Rather, it’s a about the way that large-scale farming techniques deplete the land, and possibly how to regenerate it through biodiversity.
The film is as beautifully shot as any National Geographic or Planet Earth episode. You quickly stop focusing so much on the Chesters’ personal story as it is replaced by the much more fascinating dramas that play out as the farm’s ecosystem works (or doesn’t) over the course of seven years. The end result is transcendent and, ultimately, hope inducing. I might watch it again.
Below is a short list of events, people, and experiences I encountered and enjoyed in 2018 that you might want to know about for the year ahead.
Earfull, the music and author reading series, curated by Tim Huggins and offered in partnership with the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA, is pure magic. Each season, drawing on their personal and professional networks, Tim and his collaborators invite a wide variety of local and national musical and literary talent to perform and read for an intimate group of about 100 people, many of whom have been attending Earfull events around Boston for nearly 20 years. Each event has been a “wow” experience. Earfull is definitely a happy place for me. Thank you, Tim.
Polymath Heather Schmidt
Of the many things that Heather Schmidt is good at, she is an accomplished long distance trail runner, and has been coaching runners of all abilities. This past summer, Heather coached me toward my very modest goal to just get into a regular running routine. I am someone who needs accountability and instruction when it comes to fitness, and Heather provided both. She also provided much needed moral support, especially after the initial high of getting into the groove subsided, the harder work began and coincided with life and work stresses. Heather has run several running and writing retreats, and has a new enterprise on the horizon. Look out for more from her in 2019 as she launches Landsmith, a cafe and outdoor adventure clubhouse. Thank you, Heather.
Cara Solomon is an accomplished journalist, but she doesn’t want to read about famous people, and she doesn’t want you to either. She wants you to get to know your Boston neighbors, and through Everyday Boston is training people across the city to listen, record, and write each other’s stories with the goal of opening people’s minds to commonalities and demystifying the differences. Cara is also running storytelling workshops at all kinds of organizations in Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville. The power of listening and sharing cannot be underestimated in any community and is the central ingredient in its strength and growth. Read a few Boston stories. Brava, Cara!
Elevate Youth founder Alec Griswold has spent the past decade working in the outdoor industry and over the past few years has turned his attention toward providing mentorship to underserved youth in Boston. From March through November, Elevate Youth ran 46 outdoor trips (fishing, hiking, climbing, skiing, surfing…) for kids aged 8-14, 86% of whom identify as people of color. In addition, Alec and his team engaged over 40 adult mentors and ran programs in partnership with three community partners around the city. This fall Patagonia recognized Elevate Youth’s impact with a special grant, evidence that the organization is clearing a path for more young people to have access to more opportunity, build new skills, and enjoy the outdoors than ever before. Someone had to be the first one on the trail, and that someone in Boston is Alec.
Crews for a Cause
Since its inception, humans have been enamored with the moving image, and over the last decade video has exploded as the medium of choice for entertainment, information, learning, communicating and sharing. Producing great content of any kind requires professional skillsets, tools, and equipment, but video remains the format that is the most highly specialized and costly to do the right way. The prolific and generous team of filmmakers behind Crews for a Cause recognize that nonprofits are not often in a position to fund promo videos so essential to the advocacy and fundraising work that they do (on top of the actual programmatic work that they do).
These videos can cost anywhere from $5-85,000 depending on the scope. That is quite a range, and in this medium, you usually get what you pay for. For perspective, without time spent on planning, scripting, location scouting, casting, lighting, sound, editing, graphics, etc., a single day of shooting with two cameras will run approximately $1,200-$1,500.
Crews for a Cause invites nonprofits to submit requests for video projects (live action and motion graphics), and based on expressed criteria decide whether the project is one that they think they can assemble a team of volunteers around to fulfill. Beyond the value of the services rendered, this angel intervention makes double the impact as nonprofit leaders and team members feel supported by others who are also giving of their own time to help. Keep up the extremely valuable work, Crews for a Cause!
Gallery 263 Celebrates 10 Years
When I moved from New York to Boston in 2007, I joined the fledgling board of Gallery 263 in Cambridge, a project which grew out of a space with a creative history and into a neighborhood hub for fine art, entertainment, and community. Being a part of the gallery anchored me, gave me a tribe, and allowed me to feel helpful in a new city. I only served for a year or two, but have stayed connected and regularly attend their Harvest Dinner fundraisers and other events.
Most impressive is the way in which the gallery has grown into an organization that employs people across disciplines; shined a light on the people of the neighborhood in Cambridgeport; attracted high caliber talent and curators for residencies, exhibitions, and performances; and that it continues to build on its original mission ten years on. Wanting to cultivate something like this is a dream, doing it takes a lot of work, time, and humor. Congratulations to David Craft and the entire team for putting in this effort for our benefit.
Please check out these events and organizations in 2019, and consider putting them on your shortlist for charitable donations, entrepreneurial support, and volunteering/mentoring in 2019. Nothing says that you can’t cross that off of your list today!
Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, etc., by Jeff Tweedy (2018)
I am a casual Wilco fan in that I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of their catalog, but their music and other productions such as the 2002 documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco by Sam Jones, and the Solid Sound Festival, are all on my list of experiences that have left a good kind of mark. I have seen them play live at Solid Sound and at Thompson’s Point in Portland, ME. When I heard about Jeff Tweedy’s memoir being published, I was intrigued because there is a lot that I don’t know about him and the band, and I also know that he has grown and changed a lot as a person over the past two decades. I am also a sucker for learning more about how creative people make the doughnuts, and this book opens the door a crack when Tweedy shares about his songwriting process and the way his thinking about what he does and makes have evolved over time. There are a lot of funny, light moments which balance some of the more serious stories. I also listened to this book on Audible which was read by the author.
I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff, by Abbi Jacobson (2018)
Who doesn’t want to take a road trip across the U.S.A? Who doesn’t want to know the intimate details of a solo trip taken by Abbi Jacobsen, who recently wrapped the fifth and final season of Broad City? Unlike Jeff Tweedy who has been known to be a private type, Jacobson is of a generation who has shared it all through her writing and performance and on social media. In this memoir in travelogue form, Jacobson goes deeper to explore adventure, loneliness, relationships, success, societal norms (and how she has shaken up her own). There were a lot of times when I laughed along with her, and many other times when I couldn’t believe my ears because she was expressing thoughts that I have had (as have some of my female friends). For Broad City fans, there are stories about how the show came to be, and vulnerable tellings about what it is like to be stressed and filled with anxiety when you are making a hit comedy show. Everybody hurts sometimes.
The Invisible Comes To Us, Anna & Elizabeth (2018)
I really like it when a friend makes a recommendation that they just know I will love, and I do. This happened earlier this month when my friend, the author Ron Maclean, invited me to go see Anna & Elizabeth in Boston. I had heard of this band (likely through one of their many appearances on various NPR shows), but I couldn’t put my finger on anything specific about them. Turns out, their music is very specific and their live show is a transformative experience. The duo have done research in both Appalachia and New England libraries and archives to find folk songs written by women over the last hundred years or so. They then arrange and record these songs, paying tribute to the original writers and musicians by telling their stories in between numbers and through visual storytelling in the form of a “crankie,” an open wooden box that holds an illustrated scroll that the performer “cranks’ to advance — an early movie. Visit All Songs Considered to read or listen to an interview with Anna & Elizabeth from earlier this year, and to watch a video that they filmed in Brooklyn. Below is a video of a performance with “crankie.”