Essay - Roots
It’s five days and a few hours until Fred and I depart from our homes to start the crazy adventure we’re calling This Craft Nation. I’ll get on the train in Chicago and he’ll board in Holland, MI, and we’ll meet in our first stop, Kalamazoo, MI. It’s not too far from either of our homes, we’re both pretty familiar with the town, and we know several people there. It looks like the perfect jumping off point for us to start down a path made of steel, wood, sweat, and tears.
I was raised in Champaign, Illinois, a town that regularly has trains coming and going, both passenger and freight. I’ve always been curious about where they were going as well as who or what they were carrying. I’ve ridden a few of them and reveled in the charm of a slower-paced, old-fashioned type of transportation. There was also a plethora of movies in my childhood where adventure, mystery, or romance seemed to come from the shared experiences of those aboard trains. There is a part of me that still hopes these things are true, and not just something that used to happen in the movies.
Growing up, I was a comic nerd, a role-playing game nerd, a film geek, a wannabe musician, a martial arts aficionado and an aspiring artist. I never felt “normal,” but fortunately, I was part of a close-knit group of friends, bonded together by our shared weirdness and enthusiasms.
I stumbled my way through high school, then worked as a manager at a pizza joint while trying out community college for a couple of years. Eventually, I found myself in Chicago. After some trial and error, I found a college that spoke to me, the American Academy of Art, and a group of friends that I still love to this day. I also met my wife, Natanya, who was working there as a model. We even caused a bit of scandal, as models and students were not allowed to be friends, much less date (despite it being a time-honored tradition out in the real world).
Natanya and I moved in together not long after I graduated and eventually got married (at a train station even!). Our friend circle has grown and become more interesting and filled with love than I thought possible. Natanya became a burlesque dancer, which ensured our lives would never be dull, and eventually led me to meeting Fred.
It didn’t take long for Fred and I to become friends and then co-workers. We’ve worked together on a variety of projects for New Holland. We’ve traveled across the middle of the country together twice and managed to survive. We’ve had hundreds of profound discussions, some lost to the hazy depths of a very late night. Fred and I continue to have conversations about the things we hold most dear--our friends, families, and our ideas about music, art, and storytelling.
One of the crazier things about This Craft Nation is that the germ of the project was an idea that Fred and I had both been mulling over individually for a while, but it didn’t pop up until we were sitting around a table with friends, telling stories, and suddenly the perfect opening emerged to bring up my dream of a cross-country train adventure. I turned to Natanya, who’d heard me muttering over this idea for the past year, and she said, “Go on, tell him, it’s a great idea.” As soon as I brought it up, Fred looked at me in astonishment and said, “Get out of my head!”
Almost a year since that first conversation and we’re about to embark on a wild train trek across America, on a near neck-breaking schedule, going to places I’ve always wanted to see. We’ll be talking to some of the most interesting people in the country about our shared, quixotic passion for handcrafting in a thoroughly industrialized world. I’ll be painting portraits, taking photos and videos, writing blogs, and probably a few other things I don’t even know about yet. We’ll be learning and teaching.
We haven’t even begun and we already have a story. I can’t wait to see what it develops into by the end. I’m going to miss my wife, my family, and my friends dearly, but I know the journey will be worth the price. Thankfully they all think so too.
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
-Hunter S. Thompson