100 influential urbanists you probably don’t know about, but might-should

I don’t think I’ve heard the hyphenate “might-should” since I last hung out with my high school boyfriend’s Florida-born, Lynyrd Skynyrd-listening parents in their motor home—which was definitely a while ago! But sometimes it just fits the bill.

Case in point: last week, my beloved client-friends at ioby asked if I could help them with a project. They had recently come across Planetizen’s “100 Most Influential Urbanists” article and wanted to put together their own list of 100 more influential urbanists who also happen to be ioby Leaders (their honorific for residents who step up to make their neighborhood better in some way, and raise awareness and money on ioby to do it).

Naturally, I didn’t even need to think, “Might-should I do this?” I totally leapt at the chance to mine five-plus years’ worth of inspiriting ioby blog posts, videos, and giving reports for 100 awesome people who demonstrate the range of just who ioby Leaders are and just what they can do. Summarizing their stories into bite-sized pieces was also fun, though a taller order.

It’s so hard to have favorites when everyone is a knockout, but here are a few who stick with me:

  • Lucille White of Cleveland, crossing guard and grandmother of 19 (!), who lost two nieces to hit-and-runs. “Miss Lucille” convened a dozen middle and high school students in her neighborhood to help design and implement desperately needed traffic calming interventions where they live.

  • When the city of Highland Park, Michigan repossessed over 1,000 street lights from Jackson Koeppel‘s already underserved neighborhood, he co-founded Soulardarity: a membership-based, community-owned solar power nonprofit that’s installing its own new solar street lamps to light the way for his neighbors.

  • A poet and musician from Black Hills, South Dakota, Lyla June Johnston leads a team of 50-plus volunteers to organize the annual Black Hills Unity Concert, an event that joins native and non-native people alike in prayers for reconciliation, celebrations of unity, protests against injustice, and songs of hope.

Jeez, if I keep going, I’ll start tearing up again! Just too much greatness here for one blog post. Good thing you can check out 97 more excellent people and stories on ioby’s blog any time you want. They might-should help you remember that—despite Donald Trump’s best efforts—there’s still a lot of good going on out there these days.

“…as i hit the gas and crash it through a store front window.”

So goes the last half of the last sentence of what is so far my favorite vignette in the very great Rick Berlin’s newish book, The Paragraphs.

Musician Rick Berlin at the Midway Cafe Boston March 2014

Rick at the Midway Cafe, March 2014

I’ve known Rick since my college days in Boston, and have had the joy of seeing many of his live performances, attending the first Jamaica Plain Music Festival (which he helps to organize), and writing about him a few times. I also once convinced the doorman in his old Piano Factory apartment building to let me sleep in the basement when I didn’t have anywhere else to go! Yes, Rick and I go way back.

Over the years, I’ve been the lucky recipient of much correspondence from Rick—both of the personal and email blast varieties. His fearless writing (as I was stoked to be quoted as saying in the opening pages of The Paragraphs) is vital and disarming, and it makes me so happy to know that some of it has finally been anthologized.

Read more about Rick in this awesome Boston Globe article from last month (written by the also great Joan Anderman, @middlemojo) and git your copy from Jamaica Plain’s own Cutlass Press. It’s a great companion on the subway, while waiting for the doc to see you, and in bed at night, when it’s the last thing on your mind before you fall asleep.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Voice on the Radio

Well, “love” might be too strong a word, but I didn’t mind it—and that’s an improvement!

If you’ve never heard me talk, I suppose you wouldn’t know that I have a fairly deep voice. Sometimes people who called our house when I was growing up thought I was my brother; I was the lone mezzo-alto in the school choir (I come by it honestly—my mom’s a tenor!); and I had an easier time singing R.E.M. in my college dorm shower than I did Tori Amos. Etc.

But out of all the things I was teased about as a kid—wearing thrift store clothes, riding to school on the back of a tandem bike, liking to read!—I was oddly spared any comments about my voice. Which was great! But that didn’t mean I myself was super cool with it.

man playing stand up bass

Did I mention I also played stand-up bass as a kid? (Though probably not as well as this guy.) How appropriate!

Still, I’ve always loved hearing other people’s voices: listening to the radio in particular has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I even aspired for a while to become an on-air DJ, a dream that only went so far as a year of interning at WERS while I was at Emerson College, and (maybe this counts?) a stint of reading books out loud for Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (which is apparently now called Learning Ally). But I’ve been a proud public radio member-nerd here in NYC for 10 years, and “become an awesome radio DJ” remains somewhere on my to-do list.

Part of the issue, I think, was that I didn’t super-like the sound of my voice when I heard it on tape. I realize most DJs are probably not required to go back and listen to their own recordings after doing a show, but the idea of too many people hearing my low-low tones was perhaps a bit off-putting. Until now!

Enter Ken Kinard, a creativity coach and chief creative officer at the marketing agency Accent Interactive. Ken and I met last spring, during a team-building program he directed for my client Pilot Projects. A few months ago, he told me he was planning to produce a podcast or two about the freelance lifestyle and asked if he might interview me for material. I thought it sounded like a hoot, and hey, maybe it was a chance to see if I’d outgrown my aural awkwardness?

The result of Ken’s and my interesting afternoon conversation at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Manhattan is a two-part ‘cast—also featuring freelancer Meaghan Ritchey of Curator Magazine—that explores the ins and outs of today’s freelance species: what drove us to this marginal existence? how do we manage our time? do we miss having coworkers? Or, the podcast intros themselves put it this way: “As more people are going independent, the way work gets done is changing. We explore how freelancers are living the lives of executives and the impact it has on vacation, family, security, and the community.”

Workwise podcast #10: Nice lance. You free?

Workwise podcast #11: Lancers for the win

Ken’s questions to Meaghan and me are interspersed with reflections from the studio as he and his cohost, Mike Boyes (a leadership development consultant, coach, and president of Credo Consulting), listen to our answers and relate our work experiences to others’. I think (and I’m not biased at all here) that they did a really nice job of asking good questions, representing me (and Meaghan, I would imagine) accurately, and drawing some really interesting insights and further provocations from our conversations.

Plus, I was able to listen to both episodes from stem to stern and not cringe once at the sound of my voice! (Although I notice I did talk pretty fast.) Thanks for whatever magic you wrought there, Ken. Now I’m this much closer to chasing my dream of becoming an awesome radio DJ.

The next time you’re working it in the gym, chopping carrots in the kitchen, or toiling with the toilet brush, perhaps you’ll want to take a listen to these fun shows and let me know what you think? I hope my bass vibrato isn’t too much for your earbuds.

Guys Posing as Nuns, Astroturf, and Thousands of Pieces of Fake Fruit: LoftOpera’s Le Comte Ory

That was the working title of a preview I just wrote for Brooklyn-based opera company LoftOpera‘s newest production, Le Comte Ory (translation: The Count Ory) for Bushwick Daily.

LoftOpera performs Tosca photo by Robert Altman

LoftOpera does Puccini’s Tosca—by the looks of it, a more sober production than their upcoming one (photo by Robert Altman)

Here’s a preview of the preview (you can read the whole thing here):

“It’s totally ridiculous; almost unexplainable,” says Daniel Ellis-Ferris [the company’s founder and executive producer]. “It’s new for us to be doing something this playful.

“For example, there’s a threesome at the end of the show. When they did it at the Met [Metropolitan Opera], they just had three people sitting on a big bed, fluffing a duvet around. That’s about all you can do at the Met. But we’re working with gymnasts and circus people in a warehouse deep in Bushwick! So we can make ours a lot sexier. And our audience will have fun with that, rather than be offended by it.”

Sounds like the makings of fun for sure. I’m going to see the show with my friend Charles, a certified opera expert, next month. Extremely psyched!

Scholes Street Studio: Making my day in all kinds of ways

I did an interview a few weeks ago with the lovely human beings Anita Mercier and René Pierre Allain, long-time Williamsburg residents, accomplished parents, and co-owners of Scholes Street Studio, a gem of a music space in our fair neighborhood.

The fascinating couple took more time than was necessary to show me around their beautiful and impressive live/work/performance space, and we enjoyed talking about their collection of African masks, the benefits of a metalworking background in the context of a major building renovation, and the ever-changing arts landscape of NYC.

Artists By Any Other Name performance

Artists By Any Other Name perform in 2015 (photo courtesy of Scholes Street Studio)

I felt the story I wrote about it for Bushwick Daily basically did the conversation, and Scholes Street Studio itself, justice. Plus it came together pretty easily once the interview was done, which always feels good from the ol’ craftsmanship perspective. But I was totally and wonderfully shocked when Bushwick Daily’s managing editor Emilie Ruscoe sent me the following feedback a couple of weeks after it was published:

“This is way overdue, but I have been meaning to email you back regarding your amazing work on the Scholes Street Studio piece! It was outstanding! Seriously beautiful, thoughtful, elegant features writing that, in my estimation, made up a story that seems like something the most discriminating news outlets I read would have been proud to run. I feel so lucky that you wrote it for us and so proud to have something so great among the stories I’ve edited for this site. Thank you so much!!”

Jeez, Emilie—you made me blush! You also made my day. Heck, my week! While trying to write well is its own reward, it’s a huge, huge help to get thoughtful pats on the back like this from time to time (as well as thoughtful critiques, which Emilie is also good at!). Helps make all the time spent staring at the screen totally worth it.

So this is pretty much a win-win, right? Memorable conversation, solid story, and morale-boosting accolade. (Well, if my math is right, that actually constitutes a win-win-win.) Just had to share.

Fellow writers (or anyone else): Tell me about a notable compliment you’ve received!

“We just met on the Internet. … Wait, that’s not what it sounds like!”

Nothing wrong with meeting on the Internet, of course! But the phrase sounded funny when I used it to describe my relationship to musician and writer Mariel Beaumont as I blew in to Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory a few nights ago in search of her and not sure I’d recognize her.

Mariel wrote to me last week to say she enjoyed this interview about vinyl record collectors I wrote for Medium and asked if I had any tips for promoting work on the site. While I was super-stoked to get a shout from someone I didn’t know, I had to be super-disappointing and let Mariel know that all the strokes that article’s gotten have been courtesy of the Dust & Grooves publicity machine; no marketing genius of mine.

Church Girls

Mariel (female) with her band. One of these guys is her twin brother!

We got to talking just the same and I learned her band Church Girls was going to be up from Philly in just a few days to play a show. I told her I’d try to make it, she told me she’d put me on the list, and—this outcome is far too infrequent—we both did what we said!

After I made a few wrong guesses, she spotted me in the crowd, we chatted for a bit, I heard Church Girls’ très bon indie/post-punk/folk-type set (with a few ripping guitar solos and a little Sam Cooke thrown in), and she was even nice enough to procure me a secret beer from backstage. (Pro-tip for making friends: this effort never fails to impress.)

In addition to getting lots of love for her music from the persnickety press, Mariel has written some great stuff, including this story, on Medium, about some of the real-life lessons she took from an adolescence spent at DIY shows and basement clubs. (See, this is the extent of my marketing strategy: “Hey, blog readers—check this other article out!”)

Despite its inherent identity as a connector, we all know the Internet has a Jekyll and Hyde personality that can work to isolate us (and deluge us with crap) as well as it can bring us closer together. As something of a luddite, it’s nice for me to occasionally be reminded of the ability of tools like web publishing and email to allow us to meet new, actual people in real, physical places. So much the better when those people are genuinely cool, and offer you beer.