Interviews with Interesting People

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Let’s Go To The Market with Jane Mosbacher Morris

Interviews with Interesting People is a not-even-close-to-regular feature that I started so that I’d have the excuse to meet, chat with, or email people I admire and want to get to know. 

I saw Jane Mosbacher Morris speak at the last Alt Summit (where I also hosted a roundtable!), and was blown away. She’s had such a fascinating career that led her to start To The Market, a social enterprise that sells goods that are made by survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease around the world. She kindly took time to answer a few questions for me so I could tell y’all about To The Market.

1) How did To The Market come into being?
I spent the first part of my career working at the U.S. State Department focused on the intersection of women and security. It was there that I was exposed to how few opportunities vulnerable populations had to earn an income and regain their independence. Fast forward to 2013, when I was on a trip to Kolkata, India and visited two co-ops in Kolkata’s red light districts that were both employing survivors of human trafficking to produce products. I was struck by the model of setting up a business to employ survivors as artisans, serving their emotional and financial needs! I also knew that there was growing demand in the US market for social impact products, so I felt like there was a perfect intersection of opportunity!

2) What are your hopes for the company?
Our vision is to scale and grown the co-ops in our network, accordingly. Our measure of impact is creating financial opportunity for survivor artisans in our network! We have a very ambitious plan to partner with retailers and other businesses and help them source raw materials and finished products that are made through our network.

3) What has been your biggest challenge? Your biggest highlight?
I would say the biggest challenge has been the fact that we can’t work with all of the survivor co-operatives that apply to work with us! I wish I could say yes to everyone! The biggest highlight has been watching some of our co-op partners significantly scale while working with us! Knowing that we are creating more opportunity for vulnerable populations and helping to change lives (especially for women and girls that have so little economic opportunity) gets me REALLY excited!

4) What are some ways we can all help support survivors?
Buy their products! I know that sounds so simple, and it is. We as American women usually buy 90+ products a year. If all of us just bought ONE product made by a survivor a year, there would literally be millions (if not billions) of dollars directed towards the most vulnerable among us.

5) What’s your ideal day look like?
Well an IDEAL day would certainly not be a typical day (or likely even be possible!)! : ) If it was truly a magical day, I would start my day at a co-op visit speaking with the women in our network and them somehow beam myself to Disney World (my happy place), where I would get to spend the afternoon with my family and friends riding rides and eating yummy food. I would then wrap up the day at a beach watching the sunset (I love the ocean!). I know that that sounds like a wacky combination, but hey! It would be ideal!

6) What are you most excited about this holiday season?
I love Christmas music! And also all of the festive desserts and classic movies. I am a real sap when it comes to the holidays. It’s also our busiest time of year for TO THE MARKET, so I am always thrilled to get to spread our mission with others during this season.

To The Market offers tons of beautiful jewelry, housewares, accessories, and other goods. If you’re still in the market (see what I did there?) for holiday gifts for anyone, definitely take a peak. Like Jane said, one of the easiest ways we can support survivors is to buy their products. You don’t have to tell me twice.

Some of my favorites include:

blake-bracelet

Blake Bracelet

Edith Earrings

Edith Earrings

Pyramid Necklace

Pyramid Necklace

Vintage Cotton Kantha Cushion

Vintage Cotton Kantha Cushion

Soledad Peru Tote

Soledad Peru Tote

Gaby Flat in Mustard Diamond

Gaby Flat in Mustard Diamond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and I could keep going. There’s so much good stuff over there. I also really enjoy how easy it is to shop by category; you can sort by category, cause, country, or local partner organization, so it’s not hard at all to find the perfect gift, whether you’re gifting someone else or yourself.

crystal bracelet

Speaking of gifting yourself, To The Market is kind enough to be offering a bracelet to one lucky reader who signs up for their newsletter! Pop over to To The Market, scroll to the footer and enter your email address, then stop back over here to comment & let me know what your favorite TTM item is. I’ll draw a random winner on Tuesday, December 22. Good luck!

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Prompt Club & An Interview with Jennifer Snyder

Prompt Club

Courtesy of Jennifer Snyder

If you’ve ever had a conversation with me about writing, journaling, or creativity, I’ll bet you’ve heard me talk about morning pages. So when Jennifer Snyder, writer, editor, consultant, and podcaster, asked if she could interview me about my journaling practice for her upcoming ecourse, Prompt Club, I was pretty psyched.

Prompt Club is an eight-week journaling course that’s designed to feel more like a club. It’s for anyone who considers themselves a writer, keeps a journal, or doesn’t keep a journal but wants to start! I really enjoyed chatting with Jennifer about my history with writing and journaling, so I thought it’d be fun to ask her a few questions, too, to revive my very inconsistent Interviews With Interesting People series. And! She’s offering a free spot to one of you to join us. Get to know her a little bit below, and read on to find out how to win a spot in Prompt Club.

What’s your favorite type of work to do? Your favorite type of non-work?

This is such a great question! I tend to do a lot of different types of work, but I think what really gets me going is the act of sharing stories. Whether I’m writing a very personal nonfiction essay, interviewing someone for my podcast or writing an article for publication, my heart is happiest when I’m sharing a story that matters. If rounding up my favorite spots in Sacramento helps someone plan their trip, I’m happy. If chatting with a maker and airing their story on my show helps their business in some way, I’m happy. If I share something about my own journey that offers up a “me too” moment for someone else, I’m happy.

As far as non-work goes, get me outside. I feel a very strong pull toward nature and the more time I spend outside exploring (preferably with loved ones!), the better I am at life. Truly—I’m no good if I’m cooped up for too long. Ask my husband!

What prompted you (tee-hee) to create Prompt Club?

Good one!

Well, to be frank: writing is hard. So often we can get in our own heads about things—life, work, etc.—and journaling really helps clear out that mental clutter.

That said, sitting down with a pen and paper can be downright intimidating. I have trouble getting out of my own way every time I start to write. So, I wanted to create a course that offers a bit of guidance for those of us who sometimes need a little push.

Journaling has become a place where I can unpack all of things that life throws my way, but as a writer I tend to self-edit before I even begin. I’ve had to be very intentional about giving myself the space to write badly. My journals (and word documents—I often use different mediums to journal) are full of terrible entries. Sometimes, however, tiny bits of great writing shine through. Then, I can use those bits for a larger purpose. Other times I just work through whatever is on my mind and then tuck it away, never to be read again.

What are you most excited about regarding Prompt Club?

I’m really excited to see how others respond to the prompts! I don’t necessarily expect people to share their entries, but I’m curious to see how they decide to approach each prompt. Will they love it? Will they hate it? Will they take it in a direction I never thought was possible? I think that will be the most rewarding part for me and for others taking the course.

What are you most excited about outside of work right now?

To be honest, I’ve been sort of structuring a lot of my life around the work I’m doing. It isn’t always the healthiest thing to do, but I’m pretty passionate about my work at the moment and that line is a bit blurry.

I think taking my podcast on the road is going to be a really wonderful experience. I love to travel, so combining the two is pretty perfect.

I’m also pretty excited about the bits of time I’ll be spending with family and friends this year. I don’t always get to spend enough time with loved ones who are spread all over the country, but even a small amount of time can create pretty stellar memories.

How would you spend the perfect day?

Oh gosh. This is a tough one! I think the perfect day would include copious amounts of caffeine, a solid breakfast and several hours spent hiking someplace beautiful with my husband and pups. Again, get me outside and I’m a new woman.

Thanks, Jennifer! If you’re interested in joining us in Prompt Club, be sure to register by March 20. She’s also offering a spot for one of you to join in for free! If you’re interested in entering, let me know in the comments what you’d be most excited about in the course, what your history with journaling has been, or your thoughts about the ecourse. Be sure to include an active email address so that we can get you added to the course if you win! I’ll choose a random winner next Tuesday, 3/17.

EDIT: Congratulations, Brenda, and thanks everyone for your comments! I hope to see you all over in Prompt Club in a couple weeks!

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Interviews with Interesting People: Allison Vesterfelt

Allison Vesterfelt quoteWelcome to the second edition of Interviews with Interesting People! It’s a new feature I started here, mainly so I’d have an excuse to meet, chat, or email people I am curious about.

In 2010, Allison Vesterfelt quit her job, sold all her stuff, went on a road trip through the contiguous 48 states (and eventually made it to the remaining two!), and documented her journey.

I had the pleasure of reading Ally’s new book about that experience, Packing Light, and meeting her at STORY last week. She was kind enough to answer some questions about her book and the writing life.

Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt

I noticed that in addition to the theme of traveling light, the theme of rules seemed to come up a lot throughout the book. Where there any other themes that emerged during the trip that didn’t necessarily make it into the book?

There were lots of stories that didn’t make it into the book, but the book is so introspective that most of the themes made it into the narrative. During the time we were traveling I was asking myself questions like, who is God? Does He love me? Can I trust Him? What am I here for? Who will I end up with? Am I worth loving? All of these themes made their way into the book.

But like I said, there were so many things that happened to us over the course of our travels, that there simply wasn’t room to share all of them. There was the story of the man we met in Saratoga, New York, who offered to take us to dinner at a steak house. We agreed, because we had a rule about always accepting free food, and followed him down the street to this restaurant. But about ten minutes into the meal, we started to get the sense that something was a little off. He invited us to come back to his house, so we wouldn’t be “homeless” and we tried to explain how we weren’t homeless. He kept insisting, so we told him we had to go. He asked us why we had to go, and we told him we had to get to the post office before it closed so we could get envelopes to send out packages of Sharaya’s CD she had just received. And he told us he had envelopes — hundreds of them — back at his house. Needless to say, we got out of there very quickly, and moved on to our next location.

There are dozens of funny, interesting or scary stories like that from our travels that just didn’t seem to fit the arc of the story, but that make for interesting anecdotes, so they’re fun to tell… especially when people have read the book.

What were the most rewarding and most challenging parts of writing and then publishing a book, especially one that seems so personal?

The most rewarding part is that, as you put your story on paper, and turn it into something that will be interesting to other people (or at least make sense), it really starts to make sense to you, too. I think this is one of my favorite things about writing. It helps me to see meaning in my story, and in the stories of others. That’s what we do when we take the events of our lives, and arrange them on the page in a way that communicates a clear message — we gain clarity. The hard things we faced before all of a sudden start to make sense. We start to see ourselves, and others, and the world, with new eyes. And that is really intrinsically rewarding.

The part I thought would be rewarding is the part that feels a little tenuous to me, and that’s the praise or affirmation you get for what you’ve written. In one sense, it’s really nice to see people responding to your words, and praising you for them, but I guess it makes me nervous about a few things. 1) I wonder if people feel obligated to say they like what I’ve written, even if they don’t. Especially people who know me and are friends with me outside of being an author. And that just makes me worry my relationships with those people will become cold or inauthentic, if they don’t feel like they can be honest with me about how my words struck them. 2) I’d be lying if I said the praise doesn’t feel good, but it makes me worry that I’ll become dependent on it, so that if I do meet people who didn’t like my story, or didn’t resonate with it, or just didn’t like the way I told it, I’ll feel crushed by their words and I won’t be able to engage with them or hear what they have to say. My greatest hope is that I can just stay balanced, I guess. And that as I work to grow my career as a writer, I won’t forget that I am a person, too. A daughter, a wife, a sister… and many other things. I just pray that won’t get lost as I live out this dream I’ve looked toward and hoped for for so long.

Has it gotten any easier to identify as a writer? What do you tell people you do now?

It’s getting easier. Definitely. Especially since this is literally what I do all day long. Usually, when people ask, I tell them I’m an author. I think publishing a book helped me make this leap, and also working with other really talented writers (I coach other authors, and work with several writers through Prodigal Magazine) who hesitate to call themselves writers makes me see my circumstances with new perspective. It makes me think, “This person is a really talented writer, and still feels insecure about his or her craft. That’s so silly!” I guess that helps me identify myself as a writer when people ask.

Why do you think it’s so hard to identify as a writer?

Great question. I think it’s just insecurity. Deep down inside, I always knew I was a writer. There wasn’t anything else I wanted to be. The only thing stopping me from saying it (and even doing it) was this sense that, if I told people I was a “writer” they would think to themselves: You’re a writer? You’re not a very good one. But once I got over that fear, it became easier to just tell people, “I’m a writer.”

I think this is true for so many people who are in their 20’s and just starting their career. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing — if you’re a lawyer, or a nurse, or a programmer — you’re new at it. You’re young. You’re just getting started. So you’re not going to be the best “fill-in-the-blank” there is out there. But that’s okay. I think calling yourself something is the first step to becoming it. And just because you aren’t the BEST writer ever doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. It just means you’re a new writer, and you’re learning.

Do you ever wonder how things would be different if you hadn’t gone on the trip? Is there anything you would change if you could?

I can’t even imagine a life where I didn’t go on the trip. Or, actually, that’s not true. I can imagine it, but I cringe. I hate what I see. There’s not a single thing I would change about my journey, except just that I wish I would have taken it sooner. I wish it wouldn’t have taken me so long to jump in and get started. I wish I wouldn’t have let insecurity and fear cripple me for so long. I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time building a life I didn’t want to live. I wish I would have done this all sooner.

Be sure to visit Allison’s blog and have a look at her new book, Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage. I’ve also got a copy to give away, so if you’re interested let me know in the comments. I’ll do a random drawing next Wednesday, October 2.

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Interviews with Interesting People: Sophie of Spark

Spark DeckI’m excited to be launching a new, semi-regular feature here, highlighting people who are doing things I find interesting — creating, collaborating, and sharing new things in new ways. Mainly, it’s an excuse to meet and chat with people I’d like to meet and chat with over coffee. Sometimes that’s just not possible, as is the case with Sophie, creator of the Spark Deck, as she lives in Australia. The Spark Deck is a pack of creativity cards for writers that can be mixed and match to create new writing prompts and inspirations, and Sophie was kind enough to answer some questions about the process of creating them, the importance of writing, and some of her favorite things.

Sophie of Spark

What is the story behind the Spark Deck? How and why did you decide to create it? What led you to it?

I have a note on my iPhone dated April 13, 2013, and it simply reads: ‘creativity cards’. I jotted this down on my commute home on the train, tired and exhausted from work, and feeling flat as the creative writing course that had been feeding my creativity over the past few weeks had finished. Doing the creative writing course had unlocked words I had been holding in for a while. I had always thought of myself as a writer – a ‘one day’ writer – but I was just waiting for the right time to come along for me to actually put pen to paper. It was something in the distance, something I could do, but wasn’t yet. After doing this course I realised that there was no ‘one day’ to look forward to; there was only today, and every day, and that I should (and must) write now.

When I reflected on what had made the creative writing course so effective, it boiled down to three simple things: inspiration, motivation, and structure. Inspiration in the form of writing prompts and character ideas, motivation that came from having a safety net when I faced the blank page armed with story starters and memory triggers and guides to write a story, and structure from having something that I could sit down to do each day, something that didn’t require hours of reading but that thrust an idea into my hand and said write. I couldn’t afford to take endless creative writing classes, so I thought about how I could recreate the same concepts at home – and so The Spark Deck was born.

Why is writing important?

The philosopher Alain de Botton recently tweeted ‘So long as we have such trouble telling other people how we really feel, there’ll be a role for literature’. For me, this sums up most of why I feel writing is important (fictional or otherwise). Writing can reveal another layer of ourselves, one that perhaps can’t be spoken, but can only be expressed on the page. It’s an intensely personal exercise that forces you to collect, clarify and crystallise your thoughts – there’s no multitasking while you’re writing – and I find the writing process a wonderful pocket of peace, of creative energy, and of reflection, especially when life can feel so busy and overstimulating.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Eek, this is tough! If I had to choose, there are a few authors that I would always reach for – Kazuo Ishiguro, Siri Hustvedt, Jeffrey Eugenides. There is an elegance to the way they write – they capture intimate pieces of life in a very beautiful but restrained way. Ishiguro in particular creates narratives that are so simple but so clever, and I find that his stories often linger long after I’ve put the book down.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in their writing journey?

Just write. There is nothing more and nothing less to it. The easiest way to get started is to set some time aside – I find early in the morning best – and just free write for ten to fifteen minutes, letting whatever is in your head spill out onto the page. Be prepared to write crap, and embrace that! It can be quite liberating. They key is to make writing a habit, fold it into your life, every day, and don’t be afraid of the shitty first draft!

What is your ideal day?

Being woken up with hot cup of earl grey tea prepared by my boyfriend to be sipped slowly and lazily in bed, perhaps while reading a book or a magazine, followed by a few hours of writing, then a walk somewhere fresh and green. Lunch with friends at a cafe in the sun (I find eating lunch out so luxurious and indulgent!) then – assuming I have control over the weather too! – a late afternoon storm that necessitates watching a movie on the couch covered in blankets. And the ideal day would always end with a negroni, some sort of pasta dish, and dessert!

Thanks so much, Sophie! Would you like to be interviewed or nominate someone for Interviews with Interesting People? Let me know!