creativity

Inside Trypod: NPR Tackles 'Podcast Unawareness'

By Daniel Ford

Sean Tuohy and I have voraciously listened to podcasts for years (so much so, we decided to start this humble literary podcast in 2014!). We’re constantly looking for innovative storytellers that use the format to broaden our understanding of the world.

We’re also constantly recommending the podcasts we love (as well as shamelessly promoting our own) to others, so we couldn’t have been more excited to see NPR start up a hashtag (#trypod) in order to combat “podcast unawareness.”

Edison Research found that “one in five Americans listened to podcasts every month as of early 2016 – a number that has grown by double-digits for five years,” according to NPR. The #trypod initiative brings together a wide range of the top podcast hosts who will attempt to make people curious enough about the format to download new shows.

Israel Smith, NPR’s senior director of promotion and audience development, graciously talked to me about how the idea for the program originated, how podcasters can participate, and why podcasts are becoming more and more popular.

Daniel Ford: How did the idea for the #TryPod initiative originate?

Israel Smith: At a meeting of major podcasters late last year. We were talking about audience building, and I suggested a collaborative “tell a friend” campaign that became Trypod.

DF: What has the response been like from some of the podcasts that are already involved?

IS: Everyone has been extraordinarily generous and supportive. Things will really kick into gear tomorrow when the project goes live and wide. An example of collaboration: What happens when WBEZ makes kick ass audio promos, and then Jeff Gross and Bill Irwin at Midroll make a video based on that audio and use graphics made by the NPR Marketing team? This:

DF: How can podcasters participate?

IS: Email ismith@npr.org for the project guide.

DF: You mention research that shows that more and more listeners are tuning into podcasts every month. Why do you think the medium is getting more traction?

IS: Podcasts are easy, they’re personal, and they always waiting for you when you’re ready to listen.

DF: NPR has more than a few podcasts that would be on our #TryPod list, but we want to know what you are listening to!

IS: I’m listening to “Bullseye” with Jesse Thorn, “The Daily,” “LPR Live,” and looking forward to the new season of “Embedded” on March 9.

For more information on #trypod, visit NPR’s website.

The Writer’s Bone Interviews Archives

Sweet Awkwardness: Musician Matt Pond On Songwriting, Literature, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Matt Pond (Photo credit: Derek Cascio)

Matt Pond (Photo credit: Derek Cascio)

By Daniel Ford

There’s a song titled “Take Me With You” on Matt Pond PA’s recent album “State of Gold” that has begun to haunt my writing playlist. The driving, angsty beat boils over each time the band’s front man, Matt Pond, exclaims, “It feels good to be gone.”

You don’t have to tell a creative person much more than “take me with you” with that kind of vibe.

Pond graciously talked to me before the start of his upcoming tour about songwriting, literature, and his love of rock ‘n’ roll. (Bonus points were awarded for his bourbon selection and his discussion of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs A Maid.”)

Daniel Ford: First things first: What’s your favorite bourbon and how do you drink it (on the rocks, neat, one ice cube, etc.)?

Matt Pond: I once had a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle in Bed-Stuy that was mind-blowing. I didn’t almost take it all in until it was done, until days had passed and the experience and the taste still stuck with me.

So I can’t tell you the age or the batch. But I can tell you that it was the stuff of dreams.

Recently we had a house party record release show. It was intense, with all these semi-strangers coming to my place to see me play. Almost everyone brought a gift—a bottle of Eagle Rare really got to me and since then, that’s been my go-to.

I enjoy bourbon any way it’s served. In the summer, ice. In the winter, neat. A cocktail or two in the fall and spring. (Reverse all these seasons and restrictions and I’ll probably be fine.)

I have no hifalutin pretenses with any of this baloney. If someone serves me a Miller High Life, I will drink a Miller High Life. As much as I want to cultivate my senses, respect for my guests or hosts soar above the needs of my palate.

DF: When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician and who were some of the artists that influenced you early on?

MP: I still haven’t totally realized that I want to be a musician. There isn’t a morning that I wake up and wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life.

The day I moved to New York was when it seemed like a reality. I knew no one, I was girlfriend-less. My only purpose and point was to finish our album “Emblems.”

The people that I look up to were so over my head that it’s hard to think of them as human. So they’re influences, yes. They also make me and my life look minuscule from on high. John Lennon, Jeff Lynne, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Neil Young, Bob Dylan. These were, and still are, my heroes.

DF: How would you define your sound? How did you go about developing it?

MP: My sound originates from my love of rock ‘n’ roll combined with a similar love of classical music. When those two lines of thought met inside Jeff Lynne, I was awestruck.

I can’t even approximate his production or his talent or songs. But I can shoot in the general direction and hope for the best.

I like layers. I like finding more within every listen. When music is truly great, it blocks out the rest of the world and creates a three-dimensional feeling inside me.

It’s orchestration and arrangement that speak to me. The interplay between what’s being said and what’s not being said. That’s when I’m floored.

DF: I’ve heard from a reliable source that you’re a big reader. Your lyrics, as well as your superbly written blog posts, have a real literary quality to them. How has your love of reading and literature shaped your music?

MP: I honestly appreciate the complimentary portion of your paragraph. Thank you.

I don’t know, I think repetition is actually the key. With both writing and even reading. (My figurative forehead suffers greatly from the repeated symbolic blows.)

It requires focus, time, and energy. Which all happen to be my weakest attributes. So for me, this whole life is like coming from behind. Perhaps something close to the main character in the terrible movie “Meatballs?” Or maybe like Walker Percy’s Binx Bolling?

I’m trying. That’s all I can gasp and grasp.

As far as literature and how it relates to my music, I think that I think about it too much sometimes. Because it’s not only the word choices, it’s meaning and larger metaphorical meanings—but it’s the sound of the word itself. The word has to sound right to me as a guttural iteration.

I apologize if I’m coming off slightly mad. All these processes are thrown out the window when a better idea comes along and sits in your lap.

DF: Being a literary website, we’re always looking for worthy additions to our bookshelf. What are some of the books currently cluttering your nightstand?

MP: I’m wrapping up Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which I loved. Stories woven into stories, she has the ability to go from the seemingly mundane to full-on fantastical action in a short breath.

Kingston: City On The Hudson by Alf Evers is next. It’s history wrapped in anecdotes.

I love my new town. I believe in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve become a better person. I’d like to repay the favor by knowing what’s what.

DF: There’s real honesty in your lyrics that is sorely lacking in today’s music scene. What were some of the themes you wanted to explore with the group of songs that make up your new album, “State of Gold?”

MP: After months of the listlessness of trying to live in Oakland, I reacquainted myself with Chris and upstate New York.

The album began composing itself by hurdling a huge case of writer’s block and how that miniature triumph spread like a fracture through the rest of my life.

The general theme digs deep and hard into the idea that everything great is found through loss. “A Second Lasts A Second” is where I boil that idea down to the core. Because if there’s only one second of greatness, then I’ll take it.

I’m constantly trying to convince myself that I’m valuable to myself. Strangely, I do it through singing songs. Like a constant rock ‘n’ roll lullaby.

Once music is recorded and released, it’s about relation and distance. This whole operation is supposed convince the listener that we’re valuable to one another. Maybe I understand you. And maybe you understand me.

DF: “Don't Look Down” features a lyric that I’ve fallen in love with: “You showed me how sleepless dreamers come together.” Sums up so much about life, love, and the creative process. Was your writing process any different with this album and how do you summon the muse during those sleepless dreams?

MP: I’ve actually written music in my sleep and woken up singing it. A part of the song “New Hampshire” came to me that way. (It is vital to have recording devices, guitars and pens and paper wherever you rest your head. Songs are sneaky, there’s no direct way to the answer or ending. You just have to keep unwrapping unraveling it all with your mind. Because it’s “there”—it just needs a little cognitive archaeological love.)

Songs are so elusive and so easy. I’m glad that they come at crazy times. They almost seem like animals unto themselves.

DF: There’s a line in your first blog post that was published in May that I think a lot of creative types can relate to: “My problem hasn't been about desire or gumption—it's always been about the platform.” Is it harder to connect to an audience with so many different channels available or has it given you more exposure to fans that you might not have found otherwise?

MP: I honestly like the communication when it can happen on the open plane. I’ve now embraced all the conventional manners of media in which I can stay true to my voice and my thoughts.

Still. I do bite my virtual tongue a few times a day. Criticism, derogations are everywhere and it’s not always easy to navigate.

The negatives are that there are some diminished ethics on the Web. There’s a separation and an invisibility that almost encourages evil. I wish there were a way of upping the ante on the way we virtually treat one another.

Perhaps worse in it’s small, simple way. It’s hard to be lost in a moment when you’re looking at a phone or screen.

All I’m looking for in this lifetime is to be happily lost.

DF: Your upcoming tour starts in Lancaster, Pa. on Sept. 17. What can your fans expect (besides “sipping whiskey in the early autumn and singing together in an unfamiliar host's house”)?

MP: There’s a sweet awkwardness to playing in someone’s home.

Let me clear, I’m a fan of sweet awkwardness. It’s a condition that runs parallel to honesty. Chris and I’ll be playing as a duo, trying to interpret our songs in a way that works best in your home.

Surprisingly, we bring a lot of amps. But they’re all at a low, low volume. Think of the quietest, heavy show you’ve ever seen. That’s us.

DF: What advice would you give to up-and-coming musicians?

MP: This is work. And it never stops. You have to be both humble and believe in yourself and your songs more than anything.

That balance is mostly beyond me. Maybe sometimes I’ll see it peaking in the window and run outside to chase it down. I’ll never give up on trying.

For me, there are questions about how to move forward. I’m not sure if I’m going to submit to the classic tour-release-tour grind anymore. It’s rough.

DF: Normally we ask our guests for a random fact, but musicians get special treatment. If you had to pick one of your songs that defined you forever, which one would it be and why?

MP: Okay, so I initially read this as what song would you want to define you forever. And of course, I chose someone else. But both answers follow:

From my music, I’d probably pick “New Hampshire.”

I’d moved New York to Philly. I didn’t know a soul. I would wake up in the middle of night, missing everyone and everything I knew. I slept with my acoustic guitar in between bursts of writing.

“New Hampshire” is about when I first left the state and the simultaneous breakup with my high school girlfriend. We were a horrible match. We fought over every single breath. But in between the battles, we used to babysit for a couple who had bona fide mafia friends. They once told me that they liked how I knew when not to speak. That’s one of the only compliments that actually made me proud.

Can I also pick “Bring On The Ending,” which was composed at the same time?

At first, the move to New York seemed like a terrible idea. Philly’s geographically close. But they couldn’t be more different. The high energy and style of the city made me embarrassed to be in my own skin.

At a certain point while writing the song, I realized that I was supposed to love and accept my own stupidity. “Don’t get caught dancing, even if you’re drinking.”

I mean if you love me, I always want to get caught dancing and drinking. Please and thank you.

But I honestly prefer the songs of those outside my mind. Neil Young seldom goes the wrong way. “A Man Needs Maid” moves me massively.

“My life is changing in so many ways/I don’t know who to trust anymore/There’s a shadow running through my days/Like a beggar going from door to door.”

People may talk and balk at my response. I can take it.

Some will always interpret “A Man Needs Maid” as sexist. I don’t. In fact, I believe it’s the complete opposite. The song exposes loneliness and helplessness in such a strange and beautiful way—a subjugated maid isn’t what he seeks, he’s just looking for a way to survive himself.

I love how the metaphor is divisive because it allows people to see what they want to see. Even so, the orchestration and arc of the song are undeniable.

I feel like I’m always my worst enemy. While I’ve written and performed songs I love, I’ve push myself into a frenzy over this lifetime. My next pursuit should find me making whiskey and serving food in an equitably based establishment.

I need to find a balance. That could come from loosening my grip on reins. I love it when I give myself a break. 

To learn more about Matt Pond, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @mattpondpa.

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Woodworking 101: The Craft Comes Alive at Nick Offerman's Woodshop

By Sean Tuohy

Offerman Woodshop, located in Los Angeles and helmed by comedian and “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, has been described as “kick-ass” and is filled with extremely talented and skilled artists. With the help of RH Lee, I was lucky enough to learn more about what it takes to design an original piece of art from a slab of wood.

Matthew Micucci

Matthew Micucci (All photos courtesy of  Drift Journal  and Offerman Woodshop)

Matthew Micucci (All photos courtesy of Drift Journal and Offerman Woodshop)

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

MM: When I lived in New York City I was lucky enough to get a job at the Public Theater as a set builder. I had no deep desire to build but the job was a welcome change after working in the service industry. I quickly discovered that there is a unique bond that forms among your co-workers when you are working physically with each other on a project. It was unlike any other job I've had (and I've had a lot!). You become a family. When I moved to Los Angeles a few years later I knew I needed to find a gig that was similar in order to find my “people” in an otherwise very strange town. So, long story short I am a woodworker simply because I wanted to live a life with people that have a physical job, work with their hands, and create things simply because I knew they'd be nice folks. My theory turned out to be true.

ST: Is woodworking a hobby or passion for you? 

MM: It's not a hobby. It's my way of paying rent. It's my main social group. It's my reason for enjoying life in Los Angeles. When I'm doing it I'm certain it's not my passion. It's a job. But when I go home for the evening and I'm sitting on the couch sipping a whiskey getting excited about tomorrow's part of the project and looking forward to being with the crew again I wonder...Maybe it is a passion? Nah, can't be.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood? 

MM: The first thing I made was a birdhouse when I was little with my Uncle Pete. We eventually blew it up with fire crackers years later because a hornet’s nest started taking it over. That's how we handled things in the crazy 1990s. 

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

MM: Coffee.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker? 

MM: Measure twice cut once. Measure three times...Just have Nick cut it. 

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

MM: I'm very proud of a few pieces. One that comes to mind is the Zeus Wagon Wheel, which is a seven-foot diameter circular table made from recycled wood with a mahogany Lazy Susan. We all worked as a team on that and it turned out amazing. The client was extremely gracious and excited about it, which is always icing on the cake. However, I think I'm most proud of maintaining and taking care of the shop. When the machines are clean and running smooth, the air filters are clear, materials are well stocked, and the shop floor is organized I feel a strong sense of pride. It's the little things. 

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

MM: Currently a dream would be to make a dining table for myself. It's hard to find the time and energy to make things for yourself when you're at the shop most days of the week working on other projects.

Thomas Wilhoit

Thomas Wilhoit

Thomas Wilhoit

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

TW: I came to woodworking by dabbling in many related fields. I grew up on a farm and spent a bit of time logging, putting up fences, and doing barn repair and other construction projects. I was an actor, and through that got involved with set construction, having an abundance of experience using tools. Finally, in college I did some sculpture and wood, naturally, became my favorite medium. Eventually, when I moved to Los Angeles, I stumbled upon OWS, and it was unlike anything I had encountered in the city (or have since), so I decided I had better become a woodworker for real and lock that shit down. To have an opportunity to work with such an amazing collection of people is a rarity.

ST: Is woodworking a hobby or passion for you?

TW: Hm, well, those seem awfully similar to me, and I don’t think either is entirely accurate. Presumably most people are passionate about their hobbies, since they pursue them for pleasure. Woodworking is my occupation, so it certainly isn’t a hobby, by the very nature of the word. I like to think that I’m passionate about it, but there are also plenty of moments when I get frustrated flattening a slab or during a complicated glue up and just want to go collapse into a comfortable chair and drink a beer. Most people’s experience of woodworking is limited to the realm of the hobby, so it’s natural that they assume full time woodworking is just like getting to work on your hobby all week, but like any job, it has highs and lows. So, if you mean passion in a slightly archaic sense, then yes, I feel a range of strong emotions about woodworking.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

TW: That’s digging deep—I used to make myself toys out of wood. I know that makes it sound like I grew up on a tenant farm in the 1870s, but I guess I was always dissatisfied with the toys that you could buy at the store. So, I would make all kinds of stuff, like wooden knives and swords, castles, boats, that sort of thing.

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

TW: No rituals, per se, but I like to start the day at the shop with a glass of water and some beef jerky. And, of course, I like to get pretty handsy with the wood while I plan a project.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker?

TW: Don’t wear gloves when using tools; it’s a serious safety risk. Just accept that splinters are part of the job and toughen up.

Also,  be prepared for frustrations and failures, and be flexible—you have to work with the wood, you can't just impose your will upon it. 

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

TW: We did a massive round table out of glulam for a client, and it was completely beyond our shop’s capabilities. They just don’t make much equipment for dealing with those dimensions. Because of that, we had to think on our feet and do a lot of creative problem solving, and that’s what I love most about woodworking. And, it turned out pretty gorgeous in the end.

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

TW: I don’t have a “dream project,” but it’s hard to beat working with a beautiful slab. Frankly, if my goal was simply to make things, I wouldn’t choose wood as my medium—it has a whole host of complicating factors that make it a real pain in the ass. I’m a woodworker because I enjoy working with wood, dealing with the natural quirks that give it such unique beauty. It might sound a little cheesy, but I try and think less about some conceptual form or item that I want to produce and more about the potential in each piece of wood. So, I definitely don’t have a dream item, but I can point you toward a number of dream slabs that I want to work with.

Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman

ST: Can you explain what “traditional joinery and sustainable slab rescue” is?

NO: “Traditional joinery:” Missionary position? The knee bone connected to the thigh bone, knuckling under or above, having one’s nose in or out of joint, etc.? Or you may be referring to methods of joining the discrete implements in a piece of wooden furniture to one another without fasteners such as nails or screws. For example, the four sides of a Shaker blanket chest are traditionally joined to one another by cleverly interlocking dovetail joints at the corners. Traditional “post-and-beam” or “timber-frame” construction heavily utilizes the mortise-and-tenon joint, which can be exemplified by making a “vessel” (mortise) with one hand, and inserting the index finger (tenon) of the other hand into it. Repeating this traditional action brings us full circle to the missionary position.

“Sustainable Slab Rescue” refers to the practice of re-using local trees that have been felled by storms, nature, or construction needs, by milling them into table slabs and other lumber. Many urban trees become landfill fodder, or at best, firewood, while woodworkers and homebuilders rely upon lumber companies to harvest forest products from distant locations and then expend even more fossil fuels to transport those two-by-fours to our lumberyards. By setting up a local milling service, we can give our local trees a valuable second life as furniture and home decor, while burning a hell of a lot less diesel shipping in Douglas Fir timbers from British Columbia.

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

NO: I grew up in a farming family in Minooka, Ill., learning to use tools for carpentry and mechanic work from a young age. I framed houses for a summer, then did some roofing before learning to build professional theatre scenery. I made a good half of my living in Chicago building scenery by day and acting in plays at night, which further honed my competence in working with tools in a shop. Once I moved to Los Angeles in 1997, I began to construct decks and cabins in peoples’ yards, which included teaching myself post-and-beam construction, particularly inspired by the local works of the architects Greene and Greene. One day I was chopping out a large mortise, when I realized that traditional furniture utilized the exact same joinery just on a smaller scale, and I was bewitched. A friend gave me Fine Woodworking Magazine and I devoured it, a matriculation that continues to this day.

ST: Is woodworking a hobby or passion for you?

NO: This question confuses me. It seems to presuppose that one may not be passionate about one’s hobby. To my way of thinking, a hobby can be precisely described as a productive diversion in one’s life about which said person is passionate. As in, “Fred’s probably out in the garage building one of his popsicle-stick ‘Star Wars’ vehicles. It’s his passion.” If you mean to ask if woodworking is a hobby as opposed to something more, say a vocation, then I would have to say it is a vocation. It is a discipline. A true woodworker is more than a hobbyist, if one considers “hobby” to represent a diversionary activity like repairing antique pocket-watches, or photographing and cataloging local bird species. Woodworking, I think it’s safe to say, requires a greater commitment than any mere hobby. What I mean is that woodworking is a craft that, once begun, continues to hold the woodworker in its grip, rewarding her or him with a progressive accumulation of knowledge throughout a lifetime of craft. If I were to simply enjoy building birdhouses in my spare time, with no interest in heightening my skills or tool knowledge, then I would consider myself a hobbyist who uses woodworking to make my charming product, but I would demur at being referred to as a “woodworker.”

On the other hand, if one is besotted with the tutelage of all the great woodworkers who have come before and left for us their instruction in books and periodicals, or simply in their works in homes and museums, then I would consider woodworking an obsession and a vocation. This is the case with me. I began, as many do, by building a box. Then I built a box with a lid. I chose each new project based upon some new joinery technique so that my knowledge and skills would progress equally apace. Then I built a table, then more tables. I built a small four-foot lapstrake rowboat as a cradle. I built a canoe. I built another canoe. Then I built a ukulele. I am itching to get back to my shop to build several more ukuleles so I may then graduate to acoustic guitars. Beyond that, I may build more boats or instruments—the mandolin and the violin are both calling my name from afar. In a few months it looks like I will get to take a Boston workshop in building a traditional Windsor chair, and that has me bristling with excitement, as the techniques involved are not yet ones that I wield in my personal bag of tricks, and in woodworking, every new technique becomes part of the invaluable body of knowledge that allows the woodworker to solve each unique problem as it arises.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

NO: In truth, a crappy tree house down by the creek with my pal Steve Rapcan. My father and I also built a small barn at our house before I began framing houses. The first item I made once I got turned on to woodworking was a jewelry box for my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time.

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

NO: No specific rituals per se, although consuming a bounty of bacon and eggs doesn’t hurt. Woodworking requires a clear head and perspicacity when it comes to safety around the tools and materials.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker?

NO: Plan to make mistakes. Practice joinery and get to be comfortable with your tools on scrap wood before you ruin some expensive walnut.

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

NO: To date, I am most proud of my first canoe, Huckleberry, built with the techniques I learned from Ted Moores in his book CanoeCraft, and his plans from Bear Mountain Boats. That noble vessel, my main ride, also served as the canoe of Ron Swanson on my television show “Parks and Recreation” until the series finale in which he paddled into the sunset in my second canoe, Lucky Boy.

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

NO: The next one. At the moment it’s more ukuleles.

Josh Salsbury

Josh Salsbury

Josh Salsbury

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

JS: I always liked building things when I was growing up. As a kid, I played with Lego all day long. In college, I ended up studying music at the Eastman School of Music and UCLA and then had a brief professional trombone career. After feeling unsatisfied with the freelance Los Angeles music life, I enrolled in a woodworking class at Cerritos College on a whim. I was instantly hooked and dove into fine furniture making. I enjoy woodworking because like music, it still has a creative element but the end result is something that is physically tangible.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

JS: My first memory of making something was taking a bunch of nails and hammering them into a scrap of wood in the shape of a happy face when I was a little kid. My father set me up in the backyard with blocks of wood, nails and a hammer and said, “Have fun!”

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

JS: I don’t have any rituals per se, but whenever I walk up to a tool, especially a power tool that wants to eat me, I make sure I am aware of my surroundings and that I’m in a proper state of mind to operate it. Things can go wrong in an instant if you allow your mind to wander! I always respect the tools.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker?

JS: I would advise new woodworkers to enroll in a class. If you are in Southern California, the program at Cerritos College has semester-long courses. Or if you just want to get a taste of woodworking, check out Off the Saw in Downtown Los Angeles. Taking a class is a good way to learn how to safely use the tools and meet other like-minded creative people.

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

JS: I recently completed a coffee table made out of a Bastogne walnut slab with an ebonized eastern walnut base. The slab was one of the more unique pieces of wood that I have had the opportunity to work on and had a lot of interesting figured grain. The overall design of the table was simple, but it allowed the beauty of the wood to be the focal point of the piece.

Bastogne Walnut Coffee Table

Bastogne Walnut Coffee Table

RH Lee

RH Lee

RH Lee

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

RL: There was an after school program at my elementary school called Kids' Carpentry. That's where I learned to employ hand tools and soft pine to make pretty much anything I wanted. My beloved grandpa Sam was an amateur woodworker (in addition to being amateur hunter, beekeeper, photographer, chemist, and psychedelics enthusiast). He was paralyzed by a stroke when I was little and so from a young age he asked me to be his woodworking proxy. I like to think he would have been proud to see me now.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

RL: Hard to remember the exact chronology, though many of my “rustic” early works are still kicking around my parent's house in Berkeley. 

A cutting board they still use even though its just a piece of one-by-eight pine board that I cut with a handsaw in 1984, the skateboards I built and road down to splinters, a small chair I built in our basement, and various wooden toy walky-talkies and high tech spaceship consoles with bottle caps for buttons.

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

RL: Unless I am making a delivery or a lumber run, I always ride my bicycle to the shop in the morning. From my house I take the Los Angeles river bike path and small neighborhood streets. I find that my best creative ideas and problem solving happens in this quiet pre-work ride between the river and the interstate.

ST: What advice would you give to a first time wood worker?

RL: Start by making things for yourself and your loved ones, and continue to do so even as you start to find paying work. When you make your own furniture, you get to figure out your own standards—you can let go of perfection and accuracy and let simple accidents guide you to your aesthetic. Then as you live with the piece, you learn what works and what doesn't over time. Since we strive to build furniture that will last for generations, the knowledge of the functionality and temporality of your work is invaluable to informing design. 

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

RL: I worked closely with the Outdoor Gallery at the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception developing a new set of outdoor exhibits for public interaction. I'm particularly proud of the mobile museums that I built with friend and engineer Jesse Marsh. Together we engineered and crafted a mini interactive museum console mounted on a Dutch tricycle chassis. Museum educators did public science outreach by riding the museum on wheels out on the Embarcadero.

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

RL: I've always wanted to build a mobile tiny house—something simple but fully tricked out with low-tech multipurpose modular components. Every square inch would be a completely economical and functional use of space.

To learn more about Offerman Woodshop, visit its official website or like its Facebook page.

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Matthew Abeler Helps ‘Pass the Salt’ With His Viral YouTube Video

Matthew Abeler (Photos courtesy of   Matthew Abeler)

Matthew Abeler (Photos courtesy of Matthew Abeler)

By Rachel Tyner

We’ve all been there. Seemingly enjoying a nice conversation with a friend when you suddenly realize you’ve been talking to yourself for past 10 minutes while your friend has been texting, Instagram-ing, or Tinder-ing.

Matthew Abeler, a student at the University of Northwestern of St. Paul with a keen sense for observation, noticed this as well. He began thinking about how technology affects our relationships and the types of messages we send to our friends and families when we choose to use our phones instead of engaging in conversation. So, “Pass the Salt” was created.

After seeing the “Pass the Salt” video in my newsfeed I knew I wanted to get in contact with its creator. After some quick Google action, I came across a “Pass the Salt” Facebook page. I sent a quick message , not knowing who would be on the other end, or if someone would even respond. Luckily, Matthew came back with some insightful answers.

I look forward to seeing what he is going to come up next. Be sure to check out his video, his YouTube channel, and put down the phones and pass the salt!

Rachel Tyner: Give us a little bit of your own background. Who you are, what first got you interested in film, what factors contributed to turning an initial interest into a passion, etc.?

Matthew Abeler: I was born left-handed and right-brained. I grew up in rural Upsala, MN where my parents run a Christian Bible Camp (Camp Lebanon). I spent a lot of time outdoors playing sports, fishing, hiking, and climbing trees—doing anything to appease my craving for adventure. My imagination ran wild and drove my parents and older siblings crazy, but they encouraged it even further by reading an endless amount of stories to me before bed. Most of these were from the Bible, and I became fascinated with larger than life storytelling.

I was initially interested in drawing, music, and writing long before film. I enjoyed trying to copy reality in pencil sketches, particularly the features and emotion in faces. I rebelled in my piano lessons by ignoring the songs I was supposed to practice and instead writing my own. To this day I still regret not being able to sight-read well because of this “distraction.”

I never landed on one particular skill, which is what led me to film. Film is an everything art. I realized everything I created in drawing, music, and writing could belong together in one form. I began by making home videos with my older brother, and they eventually turned into larger collaborative efforts like “Pass the Salt.”

RT: Was this video inspired by a particular dinner? What sparked you to comment on this aspect of social interactions?

MA: Surprisingly, “Pass The Salt” wasn’t sparked by a traditional family dinner. It was my interactions with college students at the University of Northwestern of St. Paul (where I currently attend) during lunch and dinner that inspired it. I noticed how “normal” it was for an entire group to have their phones out at the tables, sometimes oblivious to each other. I wondered how a parent would deal with the problem. That initial quandary led to a personal commitment not to use my phone at mealtimes even in the collegiate setting. Later, I gave a speech on the subject of “Media Obesity: Technology and Relationships” for one of my classes, and decided a comedic video could engage interest in the topic. My speech professor denied the request to use an original video, but I enjoyed the script so much I decided to make the film anyway. 

RT: You describe "Pass the Salt" as a "video short about technology and relationships.” I find that description really interesting, as opposed to a "video short about texting at the table.” Is this a topic that has been discussed often in class, with friends, family etc.? How do you think technology has affected our relationships? 

MA: When I was researching the topic for my speech, I discovered that there were greater problems swimming beneath the surface of little things like “texting at the table.” The problem is more about value than it is about cellphones. If I am having a deep conversation with my parents, and I whip out my phone I am implicitly telling them “I value the conversations with my friends on the phone more than the conversation I’m having with you.” This can cut deep, even if its status quo behavior.

No matter what I’m doing, if something causes me to turn a deaf ear to my close friends, I hurt not only them, but also my ability to maintain long lasting, tight-knit relationships.

Behind the scenes of "Pass the Salt."

Behind the scenes of "Pass the Salt."

RT: I first saw this video on Facebook when my uncle posted it. The next day, I was telling my boyfriend about it when he exclaimed, "Oh yeah I saw that!  Hilarious." Obviously, with more than two million views, this is reaching a wide demographic. Almost everyone can relate to this, but is it geared toward a particular audience?

MA: I love hearing stories like that. My mom has a friend who hosts exchange students in her home, and one of the woman’s previous students from Sweden discovered the video and shared it with her. The woman was shocked when she recognized my mom in the video.

Most watching the video are of the ages of 18 to 35 and 65+. Although I’d like to credit myself for knowing the audience well before creating the video, I didn't really have a particular demographic in mind other than my speech class. I can, however, explain a possible reason for the wide ranging demographic.

The average human peaks at about 150 relationships in a given community, but because of a desire to be valued by many, we’re often convinced we need more relationships to be content and/or significant.

Not surprisingly, the average number of Facebook friends per person shows that the 18 to 24 age demographic is most guilty of this tendency, and the demographic 65+ is least guilty.

  • Age 65+: 102 Friends
  • Age 35 to 54: 250 Friends
  • Age 25 to 43: 360 Friends
  • Age 18 to 24: 649 Friends

Because the problem is not mere technology or media, but our confusion with more relationships meaning better relationships, the age categories on separate ends of the totem pole relate to the video the best, even though it doesn’t explicitly deal with this subject.

RT: This video was uploaded a year ago. When did you first start to see a dramatic increase in shares and views? Do you think it correlates to anything?

MA: Five weeks ago it jumped from 3,000 views to 30,000 in a single day. This seems to have occurred as a result of a Women’s Retreat guest at Camp Lebanon who asked my mom (who also starred in the short film) if she could use the film in an online course she was teaching. From there it snowballed into more than 2,000,000 views and Ashton Kutcher even shared it on his Facebook page.

RT: Where did that typewriter come from and what is "Dad" (is that really your dad?) typing during the video?

MA: I borrowed it from a friend our school’s theater department whose house is full of vintage “stuff.” My dad (yes, he is my real father) was having trouble operating the typewriter because the keys were sticking. Most of the typing was a nonsensical ink mess, but I later found fragments of a poem about pumpkins.

RT: While you do not make an appearance in “Pass the Salt,” you have in some of your other videos. Do you have a preference—behind the scenes or in front of the camera?

MA: I enjoy both. The exercise of acting for camera helps me direct the performances of actors. However, I rarely act in a production I am directing. Collaboration is hands down my favorite aspect of film production. Immense joy comes from inviting the talents of others onto a production and I’m finally coming to terms with the fact I can’t do everything myself.

RT: In 10 years, what will the title on your business card read?

MA: “Children’s Storyteller Specialist”

RT: Name a random fact about yourself (other than a love for mom's lemon meringue pie).

MA: I have only one dimple, but I show it a lot.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Plotting With Disturbia Diaries Author Jennifer Fischetto

Jennifer Fishchetto

Jennifer Fishchetto

By Sean Tuohy

The word that best sums up international best-selling author Jennifer Fischetto is busy. She currently works on two book series and has another one in works. She pens the award-winning, and very fun, Jamie Bond series with Gemma Halliday, while also working on her own YA series Disturbia Diaries. Fischetto has grown in a well-known author thanks to the humor and original tone she fills her novels with.

Fischetto was nice enough to take a moment to sit and chat with Writer's Bone about her works, her writing process, and what the future holds for her.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Jennifer Fischetto: My mother read fairy tales to me as a young child, and as soon as I knew how to write, I began creating my own stories (although I may have heavily borrowed ideas from these books!). I wrote a lot in junior high, and then in high school. I was a part of a creating writing class. I knew then I wanted to be a writer. I didn't quite believe it was possible though.

ST: Do you remember the first story you wrote?

JF: The clearest one is from eighth grade. We had a writing assignment in English, and, of course, I went full throttle and wrote a story about a 17-year-old girl who hid the fact that her parents died in a car accident so that she and her seven other siblings wouldn't be separated. It was supposed to be a short story, but mine was much longer. I still remember the construction paper cover I created for it.

ST: What attaches you to the YA genre?

JF: There's something special about this age group. There's the confusion and vulnerability of not knowing who you are and where you fit in yet. And there are such limitations when you're that age; between parents, school, and not having the freedom you desire. It's a time of struggle, and writing about that conflict appeals to me.

ST: Your Jamie Bond series is a wonderfully fun series, where did the idea for ex cover model turned P.I. come from?

JF: Actually, this series is the creation of Gemma Halliday. I had nothing to do with creating Jamie's job choices. It was an idea Gemma had started some years ago, but couldn't find the time to write. She and I had originally connected through "Romance Divas," an online community of (mostly) romance writers. Gemma had mentored me back in 2007. Then one day, out of the blue, she messaged me, asking if I was interested in co-authoring this series with her. A lot of what happens in the books comes from my imagination, but Jamie, herself, is Gemma's baby.

ST: Do you do any research for your novels? If so, what is that process like?

JF: Because I write mysteries, most of my research stems around criminal law and police procedure. There is a wonderful Yahoo group, “Crimescenewriters,” that answers all kinds of police procedural questions, and Google is my best friend. But since I write cozies and romantic mysteries, as opposed to, legal thrillers, I don't need to know intricate details.

ST: What is your writing process?

JF: I'm a plotter, so my process usually goes like this:

  • Brainstorm idea: I'll get a snippet of an idea for a plot or a character and ask a lot of "what ifs." This is my favorite part of the process. 
  • Plot: I plot scene-by-scene in Scrivener. This can be minimal or very detailed. Even with these virtual notecards, I don't always follow it exactly. 
  • First draft: I tell myself to write fast and dirty, but that doesn't always happen. In the beginning of a story, I tend to go back and edit a lot, but by time I reach the middle, I lock up my internal editor and just move forward. I write in chronological order. I've tried skipping around and it just confuses me. I tend to hold a lot of information in my head. I make notes, but I prefer going my memory, if I can. 
  • Revisions: This is the fun part, making all those words pretty and cohesive. And then finally, I end with polishing/editing. 

Depending on which series I'm writing, I'll either hand over my portion of a Jamie Bond book straight to my co-author, or for my YA series, if time allows, I'll also have my amazing criticism group, "YAFF," take a look.

ST: Do you have a different writing process for YA novels and adult novels?

JF: I do not. Other than the stories themselves, I usually write every book the same way.

ST: If given the chance which of your characters would you spend the day with and what would you do?

JF: I'm currently writing the first book of a new series. It's about a young woman who communicates with ghosts, much like my YA series, but this one is more fun. Her name is Gianna, and she works at her family deli, which is a beacon for ghosts. For reasons she's not sure, the recently departed cross over through the deli. Gianna is a hoot, and a day with her would keep me laughing.

ST: What advice do you give to young writers?

JF: Don't quit. Keep trying. And believe in yourself. Always believe that you can make your dreams come true. It may take time, and it may not be easy, but it's definitely doable. And read, read, read!

ST: What is one random fact about yourself?

JF: I have double-jointed thumbs. Seriously. I can bend them backwards much further than most people. It's something I rarely think about now, but as a kid, my family would always ask me to perform. The circus side show.

To learn more about Jennifer Fischetto, check out her official website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @JennFischetto.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

SoulPancake’s Golriz Lucina Chews On Life’s Delicious Questions

All images and video courtesy of SoulPancake.    This person's head is exploding with awesome.

All images and video courtesy of SoulPancake.

This person's head is exploding with awesome.

By Daniel Ford

After a rough day, we’ve all at one point one or another Googled “Kid President,” clicked on the first YouTube video that popped up, and rejoiced after hearing a kid in a sharp suit tell us, “the world needs you to stop being boring.”

Kid President’s base of operations is SoulPancake, a website founded in 2009 by Rainn Wilson (from NBC's "The Office") with Joshua Homnick and Devon Gundry, that strives to “make discussions about spirituality, creativity, and philosophy cool again.”

Golriz Lucina, SoulPancake’s art director and executive producer and co-author of the The SoulPancake Book, graciously took the time to answer a few of my questions about the website.

Golriz Lucina

Golriz Lucina

Daniel Ford: How did the idea for SoulPancake come about? Has anything changed from your initial vision, or have you stayed true to your original ideas?

Golriz Lucina: SoulPancake was originally founded in 2009 by Rainn Wilson (from NBC's "The Office") with Joshua Homnick and Devon Gundry. The initial vision was to create a safe platform for people to 'chew on life's big questions' and really dig into what it means to be human. Even though SoulPancake is now accessible via several platforms beyond the original website (book, video, and television ) the core mission of always presenting inspiring, uplifting, and challenging content that pushes people to think about their existence is still a fundamental tenant of the brand.

DF: When developing the website what/who were some of your influences (and who are your creative influences in general)?

GL: There was really no other website on the Web that we found that was doing what we set out to do—which was not only to present quality content, but also to allow/encourage people to engage with it, have dialogue around it, etc. Our creative influences today are broad and span across amazing musicians, authors, poets, artists, and filmmakers.

DF: You guys published a book in 2010. What was that process like and what was the driving force behind that endeavor?

GL: The process of writing a book was really incredible, but also challenging as it was a first time for all the authors. We felt so grateful for the opportunity and excited to give people another medium by which to engage with our brand. One of the most fun aspects was sourcing incredible art to feature from artists all over the world. Aesthetic and design has always been of utmost importance to our brand so we scoured a lot of art sites to find the perfect illustrations to accompany the questions we were presenting in the book.

DF: Needless to say “A Pep Talk From Kid President” is a hit (32 million+ views on YouTube and counting. The true story of how the video came together is even more awesome. What are your feelings on the series and what has it meant to have it on your website?

GL: We are so proud of the Kid President series. Brad Montague, the creator of the show, is one of the most incredible, brilliant, and golden-hearted people we've ever worked with. His desire, along with Robby's (aka “Kid President”) to make the world a better place was completely in line with SoulPancake's ethos and we're so happy and excited about Kid President touching so many hearts with his positive, hilarious spirit!

DF: Besides Kid President, what are some of your other favorite things on your website? What keeps you up at night thinking, “Yeah, that is really cool and I’m glad it’s ours?”

GL: We are really proud of a lot of our content! Our signature SoulPancake street stunts such as “Chatterbox Heart Attack” and “Listen Up” are favorites. We are really proud of our “My Last Days” series as it tackled such a taboo subject in our culture (death), but in such a refreshing way! Currently our “Science of Happiness” and “Science of Love” series are resulting in a lot of great dialogue!

DF: We talk and write a lot about writing process on podcast and website. What are some of the things that define your creative processes?

GL: We are highly collaborative. We listen to our audience. We try to make sure that everything we create resides at the intersection of creative, thought-provoking, and uplifting.

DF: What do you all do besides run the website? Is it a full-time gig, or—like Rainn Wilson and acting, writing, etc.—do member of your team have other interests they are passionate about?

GL: On a daily basis, we run the website and a highly successful YouTube channel. We are also extending our brand and working as a creative agency, as well as developing television programming.

DF: Of all the Big Life Questions you’ve chewed on since launching the website, what’s one that you could talk and debate for days and weeks at a time without getting bored?

GL: There really isn't one favorite! I guess at the heart of it the biggest question we hope everyone asks themselves is "What is my life's biggest questions, and how can I start finding answers?"

DF: If you were a craft beer—or any other adult beverage of your choice—which one would you be and why?

GL: I recently had a virgin mojito that came to the table with a heaping mound of cotton candy on it. It was the most interesting and delicious drink I'd ever had. So yeah, that :)

DF: What advice do you have to up-and-coming creative types that are just starting out?

GL: Trust your gut. Spend a lot of time honing your skill. Make sure that whatever you're putting out into the world is your best work. Don't get complacent and don't compromise your intent.

DF: Name one random fact about yourselves.

GL: I have a freckle in my eye.

If you’re in the mood to chew on life’s delicious questions, check out more from SoulPancake by visiting http://soulpancake.com/, subscribing to its YouTube channel, or following the website on Twitter @soulpancake.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive