I know this is a little overdue–we arrived home to Chicago back on August 1st, but we also brought back traveling colds (blegh) and a cat (hooray!) and so I’ve been occupied.
And, well, there’s just a lot to sort through. We met over fifty people in twenty-two different cities in five weeks. I’ll let that sink in for a minute, because even though it happened to me, it still blows my mind every time I think of it.
I saw both more and less than I was hoping to: less, because of a blasted heat wave while we were in NYC, Phila, DC, and Roanoke (bah!); more, because people were willing to show us everything they had to offer.
In this way, I also learned both more and less about the ideas of making+giving+community than I set out to find: less, in that I didn’t ask as many specific questions as I wanted (and I had a LOT! but time constraints)… and more, in that more ideas and connections popped up during this trip than even I ever expected.
This was one of the major reasons for this trip–seeing first hand how the book arts world functions and communicates is a valuable lesson in how it builds community. Another major reason, though, was how generosity functions for and within a community, and on that aspect I have been absolutely blown away.
When I first planned this trip, I sent out an email asking for suggestions, expecting that I would then have to contact the people and places I wanted to see. Graciously people started offering tours and sending out invitations before I ever had a chance to contact them first! I actually ended up planning the trip about those who had invited me to see them (with a few exceptions), and I had received an invitation for almost every relevant place along our route. (I, in fact, received more invitations than we could ever visit in five weeks, and those who we did get to see realize what a tight schedule we were already on!)
I also had mentioned in the first outgoing email that we were planning on couchsurfing. While I intended to utilize the couchsurfing.com website, we instead ended up with an outpouring of offers to let us stay. Consider that this meant ten people who had never met us let both Matt and I stay in their house — sometimes for multiple days! — just based on the understanding that we were visiting book arts and community art centers.
I saw more wonderful places, met more fascinating people, and learned more about the community than I thought I could–and I set out with high expectations. I collected twenty-two hours of recordings about these people and centers, over a thousand photos, and a book full of notes and ideas.
This is fascinating to you I’m sure, but it doesn’t answer what most people have been curious about.
What in the world am I going to do with all of this information?
While I’m sure that there are many fruits of this labor that will take a long time to reveal themselves, the biggest and most immediate benefit is that this trip was the beginning stages of my thesis exploration into how making, giving, and community interact. This (as you may remember) was my plan all along, so now that I’ve experienced the generosity of this community on many levels, it’s my turn to make a gift for everyone who participated. I believe most of us understand the use of physical objects as reminders of our relationships to others — touchstones, in a way — and letters and mementos gain an additional importance when they are handmade. These gifts will only be small tokens of my appreciation for all the help given to me, but I believe the handmade gift is a vital element of “keeping in touch” with such a wonderful group of people.
Once that is completed, the next step is more obvious: I intend to make a book of the trip and the resulting connections and communications made. As it’s a next step in thesis project, this isn’t solidified yet, but more will be available about it as it develops.
I look forward to staying in contact with y’all and watching how our ties strengthen. The journey has only begun!