Amazement: CINDY GALLOP

 

As told to Emma Alvarez Gibson

Photo: Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Cindy Gallop is a graduate of Somerville College, Oxford, whose background is over 30 years in brand-building, marketing and advertising – she started up the US office of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York in 1998 and in 2003 was named Advertising Woman of the Year. She is the founder and CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld, co-action software launched in beta at TED 2010 and subsequently written up and taught as a Harvard Business School case study, which enables brands to implement the business model of the future – Shared Values + Shared Action = Shared Profit (financial and social). She is also the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn – ‘Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference’ – a social sextech platform designed to promote good sexual behavior and good sexual values, which she launched at TED 2009.

I think cool is a massively overused word. And so I’ll be frank, it’s not a word I personally use a great deal because of that. In fact, ironically, now that I’m thinking about it, I use the word far more often in terms of, somebody says, “Let’s do this,” or “I’m going to do that.” And I go, “Okay, cool.” I don’t often say, “This is really cool.” So I guess I’d say to some extent it’s a word that I do feel is re-interpretable, and obviously this is the case in terms of its common usage. Cool can kind of mean whatever you want it to mean. It’s an expression of endorsement, but it’s different for every individual.

I think [cool] is usually something that surprises me. You know, it’s unexpected in some form or other, which means it is not status quo. It’s anybody who is changing the world to be the world that they and we want it to be. I’m regularly asked this question in a somewhat different format, which is, people say, “Cindy, who inspires you?” And I go, “Literally anybody who is actually out there making shit happen in the real world to change the world in all the ways that so many of us want to see it changed.” That is who I consider cool. And the wonderful thing about humanity is that every day there are incredible examples of individuals who are doing something phenomenal. That is simply because they’re doing what they believe is right to make the kinds of things happen that they and we want to see happen.

“Humanity is just so amazing
in so many different ways.”

I am deliberately nonspecific. I don’t believe in having a set number of, ooh, these are my heroes. These are my heroines; these are cool people. Every single day there are examples of people who may not have the spotlight of celebrity or the spotlight of style on them. They are doing things that are just phenomenally admirable. And the wonderful thing is that every single day, whether it’s something one sees on social media or report on the news or even something one encounters in one’s own daily life or a friend encounters and tells you about it—there are amazing people doing wonderful, wonderful things. And so I am deliberately nonspecific, because it’s not about the names, it’s about the fact that humanity is just so amazing in so many different ways.

I remember when I was working in advertising and traveling all around the world, running global pieces of business, and I would sit on an airplane in business class, drinking glass of champagne and think, Oh my God, how cool is it that I get paid to do this? I would be on a shoot somewhere. I mean, one is incredibly lucky in advertising. You do get to travel to amazing places to make ads, to meet with clients, to go to conferences.

And so I’ve stood in incredible locations, and just thought, I can’t believe I’m being paid to be here. And what I’ve always thought at the same time is, I hope I never stop feeling that, because the day I feel blasé about any of this, the day I’m not pathetically grateful to be here, is the day that I will no longer know myself. 

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DIY

DIY

The thought, effort, problem-solving, and creativity I put into this project birthed in me the notion that, even if I didn’t necessarily know how to do something, there was a good chance I could figure it out.

By Emma Alvarez Gibson

At age 5, I found some scraps of wood, a few nails, and a hammer in the garage. I did the obvious thing and made a bed for one of my dolls. It wasn’t perfect, I thought, not by a long shot: the wood was rough and each piece was a different size and shape, so it didn’t stand straight (prompting me to realize that, actually, I’d made a cradle I could rock). Even at that age, I wasn’t under any illusions that anyone would find it beautiful or even charming, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, I had made a doll bed with my own two hands, with no help from anyone.
And that’s how I became a lover of all things DIY. The thought, effort, problem-solving, and creativity I put into this project birthed in me the notion that, even if I didn’t necessarily know how to do something, there was a good chance I could figure it out.

Next came ads, offering my services to the neighborhood as an accomplished weed-puller and a kindly baby-sitter, respectively. By age 9 I’d created a magazine (singular, as in just one copy) called SuperKid!, in which I wrote about books, actors, and fashion. Friendship bracelets came after that, and then collages. I scoured craft books (which, in the 80s, seemed to be the only useful resource for DIY projects) for ideas, then tried my hand at customizing the ideas I liked best. I studied art and fashion magazines and reconstructed the looks I saw, borrowing clothes and accessories from both my parents. (One piece I remember fondly was a velvet blazer from the 70s, which I turned inside-out to reveal its satiny, peacock-blue lining. My father was unamused when he discovered it.) In high school, some of my DIYs came from the pages of Sassy magazine (a dress made from the skirt of a thrifted sundress, a leotard top, a length of ribbon, a needle and some thread) while others came from fellow goth kids (take a pair of fishnets, cut off the feet, cut a hole in the crotch big enough for your head to fit through, put them on, add your favorite band t-shirt over it, ideally with the neck and sleeves chopped out).

It’s important to point out that there was nothing tidy about any of this. I wasn’t working from a checklist. I was just digging around, looking for stuff that seemed interesting. Often we didn’t have the necessary supplies lying around the house, so I substituted or made do without, and the result was sometimes a crashing failure. But I knew that the next one had the potential to be amazing, and anyway I’d had fun trying. That’s the spirit of DIY, that’s where it all comes from: curiosity, and a love of learning for its own sake.

In the mid-90s, DIY began to come into its own in the West, emerging as something to celebrate, if not flaunt. With ties to third-wave feminism and punk rock, the DIY ethos struck a chord with certain segments of youth culture. By the early 2000s, it was everywhere. There were TV shows about crafting; websites that talked you through making anything from a blank book to a house you could live in; magazines devoted to collaging; Stitch n’ Bitch groups all over the globe that met regularly to knit and crochet together.

What made it so revolutionary? After all, humans have been making things for as long as we’ve existed. But post-industrialism, the act of making becomes subversive at some levels. When it’s possible for you to buy nearly anything you need, choosing instead to make sends the message that you’re interested in learning, you take pride in hard work, and you’re willing to fail and try again. You’re interested, in other words, in growing as a human being. That speaks to a certain level of enlightenment, as far as I’m concerned.

On a grand scale, DIY fever cooled somewhat, for a number of reasons—including, notably, the stock market crash of 2008. But the impact of that fever remained—and then along came a global pandemic. People have been trying their hands at everything from gardening to woodworking to bread baking. Which neatly underscores the biggest benefit of the DIY ethos: hope. For as many serious problems this world has, and for as many realistic Doomsday scenarios as we’re currently facing, it gives me hope that so many people continue to make things themselves.

DIY is, if nothing else, an act of optimism.

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Dive Bars

A Conversation with Annene Kaye-Berry

 

The Hangar. Dear John. The Bullpen. The Office Branch. Rebo’s. SoCal dive bars, all, their names evoking an odd jumble of environments, excuses for drinking, and, in the case of Rebo’s, the word “sober” in reverse. There’s a perverse sort of mystery about them, something akin to entering a scruffy, down-at-heel antique shop, that appeals to some of us.

Having seen Jim Sclavunos talking about Tiki bars in a video for online music magazine The Quietus, I reached out to him to see if he was acquainted with any dive bar aficionados who’d be willing to talk to me about what makes the dive bar cool. He referred me to his friend Annene Kaye-Berry, saying that she knows a lot about dive bars and happens to be one of the smartest people he knows. A former journalist, copywriter, and author, Kaye-Berry is co-owner of Beach Bum Berry’s Latitude 29, a Tiki bar and restaurant in New Orleans. 

 

AKB: I grew up in Long Island. Long Island in the ’70s was a place where you could get into a bar with a birth certificate, and that birth certificate was usually purchased from the back of a magazine.

EAG: Oh my God, that’s amazing.

AKB: Also, driver’s licenses had no pictures. Nothing. It was a piece of paper with your height, and weight, and hair, and eye color. That was it. So my best friend and I actually shared one for years and their big trick was asking you what your zodiac sign was. That was the cool places. The places where, you know, some hair metal band or whatever passed for that at the time was playing.

What we used to refer to as old man bars, which was a dive bar, nobody ever asked you for anything at that point. But I wasn’t so interested in those when I was 14 because they were kind of scary. I started going to bars when I was 13 or 14 and they were all hippie kind of wine bars. They might have like four mixed drinks in their heads that they made. One of them was always a tequila sunrise.

It wasn’t until I moved to New York in 1977 when I was 17 that I actually started going to what I perceived as, at the time, old man bars, and the cool factor has remained level this whole time. A lot of coolness comes from mystery. And there was this real mystery about this dark place that grownups went to drink in during the day because in America—possibly with very few exceptions and they were very rarefied, like the three-martini lunch and stuff like that—people over 30 didn’t do that.

EAG: Right.

AKB: And a lot of us, you know, myself and my friends, most of whom were at legal drinking age at that point, we didn’t have set schedules. We had weird jobs and some of us were working in food and bev at that point. It was an adult space to start with. It was a very adult space, full of alcoholics, and beautiful, and just empty. They were never crowded. They were not where you went to necessarily attract attention. You kind of more wanted to be able to blend in to these spaces, however you’re going to do that. They were the first Irish bars and old man bars, especially the Irish bars in New York, which I think go into the category of being a dive in a lot of people’s minds. They were some of the first places to get video games.

EAG: Really?

AKB: Yeah, yeah.

EAG: That’s fascinating. How did that happen?

AKB: I think they were just trying to…I mean, the ’70s were dire in New York. There was no money anywhere and they were trying to do whatever they could get to people to come into their place. I remember going with Jim to an Irish bar on 23rd Street where we used to play Space Invaders or something like that because your alternative was to go to Times Square and go to the arcades and those were full of very challenging people. Like human traffickers and drug addicts. I mean, a lot of really good people, but also it was like you had to really prepare yourself for it and you might have to leave at any moment. And this was something that these places provided that was very comfortable, but it was also very cutting edge at the time. The idea of walking into a place and seeing something that was beyond the pinball machine was insane.

 

“You’ve been accepted by a bunch of men in their 50s who have nothing better to do than drink all day. And then those two women that show up all the time, whoever they are.”

I brought this up because it highlights a really special thing about dive bars, which is that you can plaster a patina over what the basic structure is. So you have this dark, cool place, as in temperature-wise, where people go to drink at all hours of the day and night. They’re usually open later than anywhere else, too. Where there’s a certain amount of mystery and unpredictability to what’s going to happen once you go in there, because it’s not necessarily your space. There’s always the question of whether the people that show up there every day are going to accept you, basically, by ignoring you or they’re going to challenge you. And I think that remains kind of a thing. I think there’s a test, walking through the door.

But on that level, with that commonality, you can layer all sorts of things on top of it, like this is what I call now a bar-bar, which is just a bar, but we’re going to make it an Irish bar. Or we’re going to go into a different direction and we’re going to make it a sports bar, which is intrusive. You don’t want to hang out in a sports bar unless you want a TV, like six TVs, surrounding you all the time.

EAG: Screaming at you, yeah.

AKB: Yeah. But an Irish bar doesn’t intrude on you. Again, there’s a level of friendliness there that you won’t necessarily find in regular dive bars. I always think that should be a separate delineation. But they’re both really cool places to be and if you go through the matrix and you’re accepted into these places where the bartender knows who you are, like a couple of the regulars know who you are and everything, it is a feeling of having arrived. But the thing is, where are you? I mean, it’s just this really funny thing when you start talking about the whole concept of cool. You’ve been accepted, but you’ve been accepted by a bunch of men in their 50s who have nothing better to do than drink all day. And then those two women that show up all the time, whoever they are. I don’t think that’s changed that much over the years.

EAG: Excellent. Okay. Yeah, there is that, that dynamic of, Wow, okay, I made it. Maybe I’m not quite a regular here, but they’ve definitely let me in. All right, but who’s let you in and what is this weird gambit that you walked in order to be accepted here? There’s a sense of satisfaction of having crossed some crucial, unspoken line.

AKB: But that’s a human condition and again, it brings back to this basic thing. This is just a basic part of human beings: they’re willing to risk things and walk through their own personal fire pit for all sorts of bizarre reasons that are incredibly meaningful to them. There’s a lot of stuff about drinking, the drinking culture that makes that super interesting. We’re like in the craft cocktail business, basically. And it’s the kind of the same. The things that people set up in their minds is [about] what they have to do to be endearing to a bartender when really, the bartender doesn’t want very much out of you. They want you to be friendly. They want you to talk to them when they’re bored. They want you to not talk to them when they’re busy. They want you to tip as necessary. You don’t have to be fucking Frank Sinatra. I mean, this goes all the way across the board. They want you to just have a good time in their place. You don’t have to impress them or do much of anything but be a decent customer. And yet you see all these articles that say, like, “Eight Things That Will Make Your Bartender Hate You.” There’s a hundred things that will make your bartender hate you, but they’re not on this list. The other thing I love about regular bars is that a lot of the artifice is gone, is removed, and those remain places where just good straight service is valued by everybody in the room. All those expectations are not there. You don’t have to dazzle the guy with your knowledge of Scotch whiskey because you’re there drinking and enjoying yourself with your friends, hopefully. And that is enough, and there’s not a lot of public spaces that you can say that about at this point.

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Cocktails are Cool

 

By Derek Brown

When I think about cocktails, I’m often reminded of the famous writers, artists, characters, and actors associated with them. You can close your eyes and picture a man’s man or rebellious woman with drink in hand setting their own path, surrounded by onlookers who marvel at their class and sophistication. James Bond walks up to the bar, tugs on his French cuffs, and orders a Martini shaken, not stirred. Madonna sips on a devilishly red drink in a designer dress with perfectly coiffed hair. Is this what makes a cocktail cool? No, not at all.

James Bond is, honestly, kind of a chauvinist, and Madonna was cool, wasn’t cool, and is/isn’t cool again. There’s nothing cool about the alcoholic writers who were chugging whiskey and gin to an untimely death, and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. are as much a parody as pioneers. I can’t imagine putting on Frank Sinatra for my son when he grows older and him thinking it’s cool. What was cool fades, subject to the fads of the time. They were just where they were supposed to be and, though live long in our memory, are ultimately dated. Sorry to all the cocktail drinking sophisticates who bought a tux or gown and are awaiting the revival of yesteryear. You may be waiting a long time.

What about the cocktail? It’s blameless. The cocktail didn’t ask to be cool. It shouldn’t go in and out of style like last year’s wide-legged jeans. The cocktail is just what it purports to be—the Martini is a measure of gin and vermouth with orange bitters; the Old Fashioned whiskey, sugar, and aromatic bitters. Perhaps that’s the cocktail’s secret to coolness. It never elected to be cool. It’s just good, and what followed was the recognition. And that recognition followed across time.

The cocktail was cool in 1803 when it was first mentioned, listed as a morning hangover remedy in theFarmer’s Cabinet. The cocktail was cool when it was first defined in the the Balance, and Columbian Repository in 1806. The cocktail was cool when Jerry Thomas hoisted two white rats on each shoulder of his prim jacket with a diamond stickpin and twirled his waxy moustache in the 1860s. The cocktail was still cool in Cuba when servicemen discovered the Daiquiri in 1909. The cocktail was not just cool but contraband during prohibition in the roaring ‘20s. It was cool again when prohibition ended and, in the late 1930s, Tiki was born by the hand of faux-Polynesian enthusiasts. When the Mad Men era came along, cocktails were cool too; then again in the 1980s with theatrical bottle flipping known as flair. Obviously they’re cool today, since they made it into this book. In fact, the only time cocktails weren’t cool since their debut might be around the 1970s when it turns out drugs were just considered much cooler.

You get my point? Cocktails have been cool longer than that little black dress, rock ‘n roll, and James Dean combined. What’s purportedly cool for the time and what remains cool throughout time are two different things.

“The secret to being cool all this time wasn’t acting like an asshole and wearing a nice suit.”

The cocktail has lasted so long on the cool list because its DNA is the perfect foil for experimentation. The original definition of the cocktail, mentioned above, was spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. That magic combination would start life as something resembling the Old Fashioned and end up being vaporized and experienced as a walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail. In between there have been many thousands of variations. Sometimes it was just a tweak, as with the Oaxacan Old Fashioned created by bartender Phil Ward. The standard rye whiskey that most bartenders use for an Old Fashioned is replaced with Tequila and Mezcal, the sugar with agave syrup. Other times, the change was more artful and sought to reinterpret the entire presentation of a cocktail, such as when avant-garde chef Grant Achatz of Alinea created edible balloons to accompany his cocktails.

I expect the cocktail will continue this trajectory. Spacemen will pour powdered Gimlets into their gravity resistant mugs and my son, though he’ll likely eschew crooners, will happily down a digitally enhanced Collins variation while listening to music that grinds my elderly ears.

The secret to being cool all this time wasn’t acting like an asshole and wearing a nice suit. It wasn’t sitting in a low-lit corner and brooding. It wasn’t perfectly styling your hair, singing, dancing, or drinking to excess. Nope, all those things will pass, and rightfully so. The secret to coolness is something the cocktail has mastered, and few others have. The secret is to be good. The secret is to have substance. And to have that substance be transferable, to be something that can change with the times while keeping its core intact. Spirits, sugar, water, bitters—it’s such a simple combination. Some genius invented it over 200 years ago. And, right after I finish this essay, I intend to make myself one. 

 

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Derek Brown is a spirits and cocktail expert, consultant, writer, and owner of 2017 Spirited Award winning “Best American Cocktail Bar” Columbia Room, and author of Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World, published by Rizzoli in April 2019. His work has earned several James Beard Award nominations, and he was named Imbibe magazine’s “Bartender of the Year” in 2015. He is also Chief Spirits Advisor to the National Archives Foundation and a Distinguished Fellow at Catholic University’s Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship. Brown’s writing on spirits and cocktails has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and other publications. In 2019, Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema named him one of the fifteen trailblazers since 2000 that have made Washington, D.C. a better place to eat (and drink).

 

 

 

 

 

DIY: Kick Out the Middleman

A Conversation with Mason Mixx

Mason Mixx is a veteran musician, singer, and songwriter. Currently he’s a member of grace metalious and noise band Blim Noir. He lives in New York with his wife.

Photo: Lisa Brasier

 

EAG: You’re someone who believes strongly in the DIY ethos. Tell me about that.

MM: Well, what can I say, other than if you want to do something, then you have to do it. I mean, there are and were—I suppose there were more than there are now, but—middlemen people that you need to coordinate with or get permission from or have someone else sign off on what you’re doing. DIY kind of eliminates a whole heck of a lot of that. And for those who are motivated and energetic, it’s kind of the obvious way to achieve things. And you don’t have to wait for anybody but yourself.

EAG: Is it something that grows on itself? When you first said, I’m just going to do this, did you then you find yourself looking at other avenues where you might apply that same thinking?

MM: Absolutely. I mean, the only limitation is the basically the amount of time you can devote to something. And the level of devotion to the task, I guess. There are people who want to do a lot of things in order to accomplish whatever it is. And then there are those that don’t. I mean, anybody who’s been in a band knows that you’re going to have to rehearse, you’re going to have to have a space to rehearse, you’re going to need equipment, you’re going to need material written. You’re going to have to contact clubs to book gigs, you’re going to have to promote it. You’re going to have to make flyers and staple them to telephone poles or whatever that entails. You need to put together a fanzine and develop a mailing list and get that out to the fans and recognize them and be gracious and thankful for the fact that they’re paying attention to you. So all of that requires maintenance. And that’s the nature of DIY. I mean, it’s certainly not easy and it takes more work than people can probably imagine. But the rewards are many.

EAG: What are some of those rewards that you’ve seen?

MM: Well, the rewards are realizing that there are people out in the world that are, to some extent, in sync with what you’re doing and spreading that kind of excitement and being able to cultivate that from the standpoint of either connections related to recording or interviews on radio stations, interviews for newspapers, whatever. I mean, so all of that, if you’re continuing to reach and connect and interact and network and so on, the rewards are there.

EAG: That makes me think of something. You started doing all of this in what, the 80s?

MM: Well, without letting anyone know that I’m 120 years old, I would say I was definitely doing it in the 70s.

EAG: Since the internet came along, it seems like we all spend a lot of time talking about how much smaller the world’s gotten. Do you think that’s something that DIYers were already aware of? That we’re all interconnected?

MM: Well that’s an interesting point. I wonder if the world really has gotten smaller. There’s a lot more noise. There’s a lot more static in the air because there are so many choices and it’s so easy to decide what you want or change your mind. So I think it’s really a different playing field. Although, there are aspects that are exactly the same. There are people who will invest enough energy and effort to realize whatever it is they’re out to realize. And there are those that will give up halfway there. So it’s still up to the individual to decide how far you’re going to go with something. And I mean, it can and does get to the point at times where your health is suffering, your finances are suffering, your social life is suffering. There’s no way you can be aware of everything. And so there is, to some extent, a lot of subjective isolation, if you will, involved with pursuing this one thing. I mean, take for instance, how many bands can you be aware of? How many records can you buy? How much time do you have to absorb all of this? And in the meantime, you’re writing your own material, you’re organizing rehearsals and recording sessions and gigs. There’s only 24 hours in the day.

EAG: Thinking about the mindset that’s required to do things yourself, would you say that there’s a unifying characteristic among people who do a lot of DIY stuff?

MM: Yeah. There’s a tremendous amount of unification out there. It’s kind of the essence of getting into anything that’s off the mainstream. And that’s generally where most people start. Nobody can jump directly into the mainstream, if that happens to be where someone wants to end up. But even finding off the wall, non-mainstream music, you’ve got to hunt for it. You’ve got to put the time and effort into exploring and discovering where that resides. And that’s incredibly exciting because you’re going to end up interacting with a lot of other people who are doing the same thing. And so you can end up discovering scenes that aren’t really recognized, if you know what I mean.

EAG: You’ve got to kind of follow the trail of breadcrumbs.

MM: Yeah, absolutely.

 

“I think the reason that DIY matters is that it’s just phenomenally liberating. You can start, you can just begin, no matter what it is.”

EAG: As a kid I spent tons of time reading about bands, and actors, and movies, and fashion and art. And I tracked all this stuff down by myself because none of the other 10- and 11-year-olds I knew were interested in that kind of stuff. As I followed these trails, I would stumble on other things, and make other discoveries. And one of the ideas behind this project was, wouldn’t it have been cool to have a little guidance? I’ve actively been indoctrinating my son into various parts of culture, like, Okay, look, you have to know this artist. You have to know this school of thought. You have to know X, Y, and Z. How great would that have been to have some of that structure, those underpinnings?

MM: Right.

EAG: Of course, by the same token, I’m probably robbing some people of the opportunity to look it up themselves.

MM: Well, I would suggest that from the standpoint of being a young person in relationship to the older person who’s providing this enlightening information that the young person is going to invariably at some point say, “I’m just way, way more fucking cool than this.”

EAG: Yeah. Absolutely.

MM: “This stuff is maybe, maybe 10% there, but I’m 80% there.” Which is good. We want everybody discovering the golden nuggets however, and wherever they may find them.

EAG: And that’s as it should be. God forbid you have youth without ego. That’s useless.

MM: Right. Yeah. And as long as it’s not some…I’ve always really despised the “10 Easy Steps to Whatever,” you know what I mean? Never was anything that attracted my attention. I just, I hated that concept.

EAG: “Here’s your kit. Now you’re a cool guy.”

MM: Right. I think the reason that DIY matters is that it’s just phenomenally liberating. You grow up and go through life with a huge list of why you can’t do things, and DIY allows you to, if you’re, you can put your money where your mouth is. You can start, you can just begin, no matter what it is. And if you’re bold enough to get out there and interact with people that are doing the same thing, then if you stay committed, you’re ultimately going to be involved with a larger group doing that. And to a certain extent, it’s all about getting more and more people aware of it, getting attention, getting recognized, and that can be a hell of a lot of fun because it’s not going to be all positive recognition.

EAG: Sure.

MM: Which is a significant part of the learning process. You’re going to hear a lot of no’s. The ratio of no’s to yes’s is daunting. So you learn to not take things personally and keep your eye on pursuing your DIY mission.

 

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The DIY Mindset: Vickie Howell

 

As told to Emma Alvarez Gibson

Vickie Howell is a well-known craft expert, author, designer, instructor, founder of the subscription box business YarnYAY!, and broadcast personality in the DIY world. She lives in Austin, Texas.

 

I was mostly raised by a single mom. My dad was around, but even then, my mom was a teacher and my dad was an airplane mechanic. So even before they were divorced, we were never rolling in it, especially moving from Colorado to California. We were never not money conscious. And there’s something about that. I guess that can affect you in one of two ways. You can just sort of hold on to everything, or you can think about how to make what you’ve got work, and go seek what other resources are out there for it. And that’s the route I’ve always taken. Thankfully I’m not in the same place that we were back then, but it’s definitely a mentality that’s stuck with me.

So that’s part of it. But I’ve just always been really drawn to the uniqueness of hand making, the sort of special-ness. And that can translate from the traditional heirloom to the cool-and-unusual anything. For me it definitely did not start as something like me crafting or being just a general DIY-er. It didn’t really start as any sort of scavenger hunt for cool. It was more either something that I could do with my mom to spend time, or if we didn’t have the extra cash for gifts, it was a way that I could still give. And then later it was just sort of how I channeled my energy. I’ve never been great at just sitting around.

It’s funny, a handful of years ago, a childhood friend of mine turned 40 and she was sort of giving general shout outs to folks from her childhood. And I had no memory of this and didn’t even really think of myself of being as a super DIY-er as a kid, even though now I look back and of course I was, it was just so a part of me. And she thanked me for telling her that boredom was a choice, that you could always walk to the fabric store and get ribbon to make bows, like oversized bows—this was probably in the 80s, I should say that!—or whatever else you could come up with.

And it was something that I had no memory of, but I think that that speaks to sort of what has pushed me my entire life, and then career, is that, “Okay, what can I do now?”

 

“Cool is being able to create for yourself what you want. For me, that’s been a career, a ridiculous career that doesn’t make any sense on paper.”

I think that’s where the cool seeps into it. I mean, other folks’ definition of cool is different, which is something I’m sure you’re exploring. But for my personal definition, cool is being able to create for yourself what you want. For me, that’s been a career, a ridiculous career that doesn’t make any sense on paper. But I wanted specific things. I wanted to not have to answer to really anybody. I wanted to be able to be home with the kids but still have a complete career. I wanted to be able to do something that seemed different all of the time. I wanted to be able to not have to follow the rules of getting X, Y, Z degree and using this timeline or whatever.

So for me, DIY gave that bit of cool to my life. For me, that’s cool: that I’ve been able to create something that fills all of those buckets.

When I was young, crafting wasn’t cool in any way, shape, or form. It’s only been since the internet that it has been, and that’s because of community. That’s because we’re not in sort of this myopic village of people anymore. Your community can span as wide as you can type. And so, as soon as you could pick up—whatever, a Bust magazine—and then look and find a URL, you could connect. And some of the women that were in there would have been considered outcasts, but I think the internet has been the great unifier of, “Oh my gosh, that’s so great that she’s doing that. I might put a little more of a mainstream spin on it, but now I see!” It’s more of this collaboration of ideas that really has widened the scope of what hand-making and DIY means.

And to me that’s super cool.

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“That’s Cool”

 

By William Gibson

If I could compare my father’s usage-frequency of the word cool with my own, I know who’d have used it more. He died in 1955, probably only ever having used it as the opposite of warm. He’d have known nothing of the subculture that first introduced it, if not in the way in which I’d come to use it, because he listened to Hank Williams, not to cool jazz.

I use it today a lot less frequently than I have since first hearing it used, myself, in 1959. I probably avoid using it today (to what extent that I can) because it feels to me like a Boomer archaism, but I do still use it, unthinkingly, because it’s so thoroughly imbedded. At this point, for me, it can mean that something is merely okay (or, sarcastically, not okay at all), or it can mean that something’s admirably standing out from the background against which it’s noted. It feels more like a noise I make, in certain situations, than an actual descriptor of anything.

With the help of Wikipedia, I’ve been able to determine that I first heard it used under definitively uncool circumstances: watching the first season of The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis. Dobie’s aspirationally beat pal, Maynard G. Krebs, played by Bob Denver, used it constantly. The thing was, though, Maynard himself wasn’t cool at all, and the show’s writers made sure that even I was able to see that. So I was introduced to the use of the expression by screenwriters working to ensure that their viewers would assume that using it was basically goofy.

In 1959, the beat subculture was peaking. Kerouac’s On The Road had been published in 1957, going viral in its way, and by 1959 there would’ve been quite a few teens acquainted with some version of it (usually literary, I suppose). I was two years away from becoming one of those teens myself, eleven when Maynard introduced me to saying cool.

When the show was new, I suspect, I heard the expression at school for a while, but always with a sort of parroted parodic intent. It certainly never became part of my repertoire, then, and I doubt I watched the show for very long.

Cool, however, kept on going, though not in areas I’d have had access to, where it wasn’t used sarcastically. But by the early mid-‘60s, I’d reencounter it differently: as a crucial distinction.

I was attending a boys’ boarding school by then, on the outskirts of Tucson, and cool things were not much present. Something was abroad in the world, though: The Beatles, the Stones, Dylan. Something was happening, something I instinctively wanted to understand, and I probably began to hear cool used in earnest then, though not yet by anyone I would have regarded as cool.

At some point, however, I began to notice things that I recognized not so much as cool but as expressions of cool, and these things tended to partake of a certain weird magic of repurposing. They could, I saw, be old things, but used in a new way. I didn’t think about it in those terms, but I understand now that that was what I was noticing.

“Jeans worn this way looked cool. Though it wouldn’t be cool to say as much, I realized, grasping for the first time the central exclusionism of the thing. So I bought a pair, and wore them. But only with the requisite belt.”

In Tucson, then, blue denim jeans were worn a lot, but not by my classmates. They were worn by working men, and by cowboys, both working and aspirational. We wore Levi’s jeans, but they tended to be cords, or what we called “wheat jeans”. I, however, had noticed, on the campus of the University of Arizona, that some people were wearing blue denim jeans differently. And I saw that this was coded. The guys I noticed were wearing Levi’s, but they were blue denim 501s (something I must have had to go to a store to determine). They had a button fly, something I don’t think I’d known existed before, and their reconceptualization was signaled by one particular choice of belt, itself a reconceptualization, which had (I’d later learn) migrated from London’s Carnaby Street, though its initiators there had borrowed its unreconceptualized form from American army surplus stores. Plain leather, preferably brown. Square brass buckle, either plain or chrome-plated. Of a width that filled the belt-loops of jeans. As did the width of cowboy belts, of course, but cowboy belts were (still, then) the antithesis of the reconceptualization.

You couldn’t, I gathered, wear leather shoes with these, with the exception of suede desert boots (usually sockless) or handmade sandals. This was my first experience of street fashion. And there cool, the expression, was as well, having survived attempted neutering, years before, by the writers of The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis.

Jeans worn this way looked cool. Though it wouldn’t be cool to say as much, I realized, grasping for the first time the central exclusionism of the thing. So I bought a pair, and wore them. But only with the requisite belt.

In 2003, quite a few 501’s later, I put Cayce Pollard, heroine of my novel Pattern Recognition, in black ones, with all of their branding removed or obliterated.

The character was inspired, to some extent, by early reports of coolhunting as a profession. What this consisted of, I gathered, was being paid for walking the street with an eye out for the sort of recontextualization I’d first noticed decades ago in Tucson. The companies paying you, though, would immediately manufacture and market their own version of what you discovered, prematurely closing a loop that might once have taken a couple of seasons to make it from, say, Dogtown to your local skate shop.

This struck me as tragic. For that reason, and because I actually didn’t find it very interesting, beyond the fact that it existed, I gave Cayce a superpower, the ability to immediately know whether a newly-designed logo would be effective or not, and a couple of vaguely related esoteric vulnerabilities: a phobia of Bibendum, the innertube-bodied Michelin mascot, and an intense allergy to anything designed by Tommy Hilfiger.

In the course of finding her a wardrobe she could tolerate, I happened to learn from my friend Hyunsuk, in Seoul, of a label in Tokyo called Buzz Rickson, from whom he’d recently obtained a fanatically obsessive reproduction of an vintage American military jacket, which was their thing. I decided to put Cayce in a Buzz Rickson repro of a USAF MA-1, an iconic jacket unfortunately associated with skinheads. I had no idea whether they made an MA-1 (they did). I specified Cayce’s as black, to fit with her extremely limited personal palette (they’d never made a black one, deeming it historically inauthentic). I eventually received a baffled email from them, asking why I was representing them as making something they didn’t. When I apologized, they cheerfully announced their intention to make one, and asked permission to put my name on the label. I agreed, they did, and they’re still making them today.

Not exactly coolhunting, but an indication of the sort of thing that can result from keeping one’s eye open for an apt recontextualization.

Are they cool, though? Some people think so, others not so much. Cool having come, over my lifetime, to be something as subjective as beauty, though perhaps it always was.

 

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William Gibson is credited with having coined the term “cyberspace” and having envisioned both the Internet and virtual reality before either existed. His first novel, Neuromancer, won the Hugo Award, the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award, and the Nebula Award in 1984. He is also the New York Times bestselling author of Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burning Chrome, Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History, Distrust That Particular Flavor, The Peripheral, and most recently Agency. He lives in Vancouver with his wife. 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Michael O’Shea