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Neil McMahon shared his story in front of a live audience at The Wilma Missoula, MT in September of 2016. Neil is working as a carpenter on a construction site in a remote part of Montana when the call comes from his New York City publisher. Neil calls his story “Deus ex Buick”. Stay tuned after his story to listen to our conversation. I caught up with Neil in July of 2020.

Transcript : Interview with Neil McMahon and His Story “Deus ex Buick”

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;25;06
Marc Moss
Welcome to the Tell US Something podcast. I’m Marc Moss. We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell US Something storytelling event. The theme is didn’t see that coming. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 4062034683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. The pitch deadline is May 27th. I look forward to hearing from you this week in the podcast.

00;00;25;07 – 00;00;35;12
Marc Moss
I sit down with Neil McMahon to talk about his story. Deuce X Buick which he told live on stage at the Wilmer in Missoula, Montana on September 20th. 2016.

00;00;35;20 – 00;00;54;27
Neil McMahon
At that time, believe it or not, young folks, nobody had cell phones yet, and there was no way for me to get this information. I couldn’t afford to take the day off work or just hang around. So it came down that the only way we could do this was that my and my wife, who was working at home at the time, would feel the call.

00;00;55;22 – 00;01;04;05
Marc Moss
The theme that night was the fork in the road. After his story we talked about his friend and fellow author Kim Zupan. His day job and the life of a writer.

00;01;04;09 – 00;01;05;15
Neil McMahon
Go into some kind of line.

00;01;05;15 – 00;01;05;29
Neil McMahon
Of work.

00;01;06;15 – 00;01;10;06
Neil McMahon
That would give you much more material you know, whether it’s like.

00;01;10;06 – 00;01;11;00
Neil McMahon
Michael Connolly.

00;01;11;00 – 00;01;11;24
Neil McMahon
Was a journalist.

00;01;11;24 – 00;01;14;04
Neil McMahon
Obviously physicians, lawyers, whatever.

00;01;14;27 – 00;01;16;13
Neil McMahon
Something besides swinging a hammer.

00;01;16;29 – 00;01;40;22
Marc Moss
Thank you for joining me as I take you behind the scenes at Tell US Something to meet the storytellers behind the stories. In each episode, I sit down with a Tell US Something Storyteller alumni. We chat about what they’ve been up to lately and about their experience sharing their story live on stage. Sometimes we get extra details about their story and we always get to know them a little better before we get to Neil’s story and our subsequent conversation.

00;01;41;02 – 00;02;02;03
Marc Moss
Please remember to save the date for Missoula GIBS May 5th through the sixth. Missoula Gives is a 24 hour online giving event remember to support Tell US Something during Missoula gives May 5th through the sixth. Learn More at Missoula gives dot org. Neil McMahon shared his story in front of a live audience at the Wilma in Missoula, Montana in September of 2016.

00;02;03;01 – 00;02;10;07
Marc Moss
Neil was working as a carpenter on a construction site in a remote part of Montana. When the call comes from his New York City publisher.

00;02;12;28 – 00;02;33;27
Neil McMahon
I started working as a carpenter back in the early seventies actually started as a union apprentice in 1973 and in a few years later I started getting interested in writing and you know along the way I started thinking, you know, really I’d kind of rather make my living as a writer than a carpenter and this is easier said than done.

00;02;33;27 – 00;03;00;02
Neil McMahon
So I kept swinging and a hammer and trying to buy time to write and so on and you know, lots of ups and downs There was a brief little peak in the late eighties when I managed to publish three horror novels. I was trying to kind of ride on the coattails of Stephen King and The Exorcist and all that stuff, and they vaporized and that little bubble tanked very quickly and I was back out on the bricks again, so on.

00;03;00;02 – 00;03;26;18
Neil McMahon
And so forth. So we fast forward to 1998 on a rowboat and by this time I have managed to cobble together a draft of another novel. This time a mainstream thriller. I’m trying to reinvent myself as a writer. I get it to an agent in New York. And then astonishingly, we get word that there is an editor at HarperCollins who is actually interested in this This is kind of a big deal.

00;03;28;07 – 00;03;47;27
Neil McMahon
On the other hand, it’s kind of not because I’d been through so many of these deals already where it was a, you know, a near-miss and somebody is interested and yet peters out and so on. Couldn’t take it too seriously, but you can’t not take it seriously. So the deal was anyway, the way it came down this was a Thursday in July that we got this news.

00;03;48;17 – 00;04;15;17
Neil McMahon
And this guy was going to call the next day on a Friday. And I had to actually be there to talk to him on the phone to formally confirm if he made an offer. It was a yes or no deal. If he did not call, you know, if he didn’t call and nothing was going to happen, if he did, I had to be there, talk to him, confirm it, a kind of a handshake over the phone, you know, make contact and all above all, not give him the weekend to change his mind.

00;04;16;09 – 00;04;33;13
Neil McMahon
So the wrinkle with this being this day and the crew online, we’re working with Brother Creek Road past the airport and then up in the Master, the New World, that’s about three miles past where the pavement is, this rutted dirt road and so on. And at that time, believe it or not, young folks, nobody had cell phones yet.

00;04;35;09 – 00;04;52;22
Neil McMahon
And there was no way for me to get this information. I couldn’t afford day to day offer. It could just hang around. So it came down that the only way we could do this was that my and my wife, who was working at home at the time, would field the call. And if it was a no, then, you know, that was their Tuesday home.

00;04;53;06 – 00;05;14;23
Neil McMahon
But if it was a yes, then she was going to have to drive up there and find me. And I didn’t even know, you know, to tell her where the place was. It was just a few miles up past where the pavement is. And there’s this kind of shelter like house up there. And the only thing I could say was, honey, you’ll see our trucks because the crew I was working on our trucks looked basically like a mobile junkyard.

00;05;15;06 – 00;05;23;07
Neil McMahon
And we actually we actually had a client call the sheriff’s office one time the first day we showed up on a job. This is true.

00;05;26;24 – 00;05;48;18
Neil McMahon
And on top of everything else, he’s driving his little Buick’s a little bit eighties white Buick that has a wheel clearance on the back. You know, this much in the ruts on the road or about this. And the top of it was peeling off, looked like it had leprosy. But OK, that’s another story. So I’m up there with the crew and the day goes on and on and on and nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens.

00;05;48;18 – 00;06;14;15
Neil McMahon
It gets to be about 230 in the afternoon, which is 430 in New York time. And by this time I’ve ridden it off I figure, you know, this guy’s forgotten all about this. Forgotten all about me. He’s in a bar or someplace, drink a $20 martinis in midtown Manhattan and I was in Europe for this. But on the other hand, this is kind of a big deal.

00;06;15;06 – 00;06;36;27
Neil McMahon
Again, I was trying to reinvent myself, and writers know that when a novel goes out like that, if it doesn’t sell in the first few passes to an editor, chances are it’s not going to there are exceptions to that, but usually they’re looking for pretty much the same thing. So this was kind of the handwriting on the wall because of that deal, you know?

00;06;36;27 – 00;07;06;03
Neil McMahon
And so anyway, I remember I was on the side of the houses mid afternoon at that point where there’s drag and things are getting heavier, and I was on the side of the house hanging a door and I heard my friend Kim Zubair, who was working with me, I heard him yell at me and I looked over. He explained, It’s still hard for me to get through this point and down the road and I see this little white car and up there, my wife behind the wheel, you know, kind of looking around.

00;07;06;03 – 00;07;35;23
Neil McMahon
But I would like to say that that was the start of a New York career. And a wave that I’ve been riding the crest of ever since. In fact, it was more like a little ripple in a child’s wading pond that toddler in a rubber duck inner tube could very safely negotiate with. Then a lot more trust and trust and so on and so forth.

00;07;36;19 – 00;08;01;26
Neil McMahon
But but still, that was the start of everything, you know, that was that moment when everything changed. And it has made all the difference. Anybody, you know, it’s cliched, but to say anybody who’s chased the dream and for years and wants to slip away and then you get that moment where you get a piece of it you know what that means and how it changes your life in the way you see yourself and the world and all that sort of thing.

00;08;01;26 – 00;08;27;22
Neil McMahon
And when I think about it, that’s what I think of as looking down. I see that little white car jam behind the wheel. So if I got another vintage tumor I assume I do I’ll add one more connection there. And that’s my my great old friend Jim Zupan, who was the guy who yelled at me there and very much in the same situation as me.

00;08;27;22 – 00;08;56;09
Neil McMahon
He was also a carpenter, an aspiring writer. It took him way too long to get his own break, but eventually he did with the publication of a novel called The Plow. Man. Some people might be familiar with his extraordinary. Oh, yeah, OK. The editor at HarperCollins, who bought my book that day, a guy named Dan Conaway, then went on to become a literary agent, and he was the agent who took on Kim Zoop, Dan’s book, The Plowman, and handled it and sold it and so on.

00;08;56;09 – 00;09;08;13
Neil McMahon
So kind of a little triangle there. That was that was kind of cool. Yeah. If I may just I’ll finish this off with one more very brief story Hey, I’m Irish.

00;09;10;29 – 00;09;32;04
Neil McMahon
This is this one. This was this was really pretty good. It’s actually, it’s it’s it’s Zoop story. Kim Zupan, a story talk about a fork in the road his grandparents immigrated here from Slovenia in the early 1900s. And the deal was that the old man came across a typical deal. The husband came across first and he got a job as a miner in Nevada.

00;09;32;20 – 00;09;58;07
Neil McMahon
And he sent back for his wife and a couple of her brothers to come and join him. So they took off and made it across Europe. To Cherbourg in France. And they were just about to cross the Atlantic the last second. They get a telegram from him saying, hold off. He was going to go up and work in the mines in Butte, which, believe it or not, apparently was a step up so he needed time to get up there and get settled and so on.

00;09;58;25 – 00;10;10;11
Neil McMahon
And so they were forced to cancel their transatlantic passage and sell their tickets that they had bought on a ship named the Titanic. True story. Thank you all again.

00;10;15;29 – 00;10;34;00
Marc Moss
Neil McMahon grew up in Chicago and moved to Montana in 1971. He’s the author of a dozen thrillers. His favorite is Lone Creek, set near Helena, Montana. To learn more about Neil and his work, go to tell us something Georgie. I caught up with Neil in July of 2020.

00;10;34;27 – 00;10;56;10
Neil McMahon
The manuscript I’m steering it until drops of blood form on my forehead are you reinventing yourself again? Oh, kind of. I guess I’ve been working on this for years, so not really. But it’s not the same vein of stuff I was doing earlier. Well, you first. You did horror, right? And then you did some thrillers, right? And what’s this?

00;10;57;11 – 00;11;47;08
Neil McMahon
This is maybe kind of somewhere in between the two. It’s it’s medieval. It’s actually set if you’re familiar at all with the Templars, that whole mythology and some historical mythology, they were there was a mass arrest of the entire this great order of knights and 1307. And the sort of springboards off of that, I would imagine there’s a lot of research involved uh, yeah, I guess I’ve been fascinated by them for years anyway, so I know enough to kind of gloss it over, but uh, it’s actually more, I don’t know, it’s, it’s not really historical novel, it’s not really fantasy.

00;11;47;08 – 00;12;06;29
Neil McMahon
It’s got some kind of magical elements and horror elements involved in that sort of thing. So I don’t know what to call it. We’ll see, but we’ll see when an agent picks it up and says, this is incredible. Yeah, well, you’ll be the first to know when that happens. Oh, great. You hope you’ll tell another story about it, I’m sure.

00;12;07;08 – 00;12;27;24
Neil McMahon
Absolutely will have. You bet. Hey, let me just say, I don’t I don’t want to blow smoke or anything, but I just want to say, you know, this is really a terrific program. Tell us something and I think a lot of people realize that you put a lot of work into it and there’s great appreciation for that. So thanks for saying that, Neil.

00;12;27;25 – 00;13;02;17
Neil McMahon
I hope that it survives this pandemic. Well, we sure hope so, too, but it’s going to be tough. Well, the last time I put out a call for stories nobody called the pitch line. And I had a I did a intensive workshop. So five days, 2 hours a day on Zoom but the idea that the participants would then tell a story at a livestreamed event and right out of the six people, only two wanted to tell a story and can’t really have an event with two people.

00;13;03;11 – 00;13;27;22
Marc Moss
So that’s really do you think that’s just because of the pandemic or. I think people are just torn in so many different directions right now and they don’t have the bandwidth to think about things like this. I was kind of dug in to well, you know, especially parents who have kids and they’re having to not only work from home, but also help them help their kids with school and will and worry about whether the schools are going to open.

00;13;27;22 – 00;13;52;14
Marc Moss
And so, yeah, I mean, I can’t imagine being a parent right now or even a teacher. Well, exactly. It’s a health worker. Yeah, all of it. And or or even a carpenter. Well, that’s true, too. I’m I’m glad I’m out of it for a lot of reasons. Yes. Some days I’m so hopeful and so full of optimism and so excited about the future.

00;13;52;14 – 00;14;09;19
Marc Moss
And other days, I just want to crawl into a bottle of whiskey and call it good. You know, I kind of do both you but, you know, I do think eventually this virus is going to get down. I mean, they’re going to come up. We’re going to we’re going to be living with it for years in some form.

00;14;09;19 – 00;14;28;09
Neil McMahon
But there’s going to be vaccine and treatment and so on and so forth. But I’m sure while you have been working from home for years. Yes. This really hasn’t changed much for you in that perhaps. It really hasn’t. You know, I’m kind of you know, I’m I, I discovered that I that I work best when I really hunker down.

00;14;28;09 – 00;14;30;00
Neil McMahon
And I tend to make lists.

00;14;30;00 – 00;14;31;01
Neil McMahon
Of errands I have to.

00;14;31;01 – 00;14;47;06
Neil McMahon
Do and then try and go out and get them all done at once, more or less, rather than kind of constantly popping in and out. You know, it makes me sort of a recluse, but on the other hand, it it gets you up the hill. Yeah. And I’m looking forward to busting out of that, I hope, by hoping to have this thing done pretty soon.

00;14;47;14 – 00;15;07;12
Marc Moss
What’s pretty soon months? Three months? Oh, I’m actually looking to try and get it out of the house here in another week or two. Oh, that’s great. After several years, well, but then we’re going to find out, you know, that’s the day of reckoning is coming. So but that’s, you know, the sword is hovering over the head and all that stuff.

00;15;07;12 – 00;15;28;25
Marc Moss
So well, at least Kim’s not having to drive the shitty Buick up the hill. Well, there you go. There you go. She knows where I am right now, you know? Yeah. Yeah, I remember you well. I listened to it this morning when I was picking raspberries. And I loved your description of the the top of the car peeling off.

00;15;28;25 – 00;15;30;01
Marc Moss
It looked like it had leprosy.

00;15;32;13 – 00;15;54;24
Marc Moss
Oh, well. Well, I think we’ve all had a car like that. And that was all I had for the first, you know, until till I was in my forties. You know, finally. But, yeah, well, there’s, you know, it was, I have to say, which, Jim, this point we were talking about, if for some reason it was a good little car, you know, I mean, it had 100 and change on it and it lit right up and all day long.

00;15;55;04 – 00;16;22;18
Neil McMahon
That’s great. What year was it? Was it mid eighties. I’m not exactly just one of those little nondescript, you know, it ranges that you saw all over the place at the time you were working on a crew with Kim, Kim Zupan. And he did he had he been published at the time, stories but not a novel. Yeah. So he was cheering you on.

00;16;23;17 – 00;16;58;11
Neil McMahon
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. He’s been you know, he’s been a great supporter. And I must say, conversely, I got him in touch with my then editor, Dan Conaway. Right. You mentioned that, who’s now an agent and Dan loves Kim stuff right from the get go. This is back when I first hooked up with them in the late nineties. You just couldn’t you know, you got to persuade what’s known as the X Committee at the publishing house acquisitions, but they call it the S committee with several other people who oftentimes are, you know, trying to keep you from, you know, getting your stuff done.

00;16;58;11 – 00;17;18;12
Neil McMahon
And anyway, it was way too long before before Zoop finally got over the, you know, the hump there. But thank God he did yeah. It was a great book. Terrific up. So good. Well, yeah, you mentioned that at the end of your story when you finished up your story and then you said, do I have time for work?

00;17;18;14 – 00;17;34;16
Marc Moss
And I was like, I mean, I remember being backstage doing No, you don’t. And you said, well, I guess I I’m assuming that I do well, I was waiting for I was waiting for the cane to come out and hook me around the neck, drag me off. But I’ve never I didn’t do that. I didn’t go on too long.

00;17;34;23 – 00;17;59;11
Marc Moss
No, you didn’t. I didn’t time it when I was listening to it today. But I think you maybe you were like 90 seconds long, longer than that time. That’s fine. I’ve never told anybody off the stage with a cane or whatever. You know, there have been times where I’ve wanted to believe it and I’ve had to have hard conversations after the fact with people who sort of went off the rails.

00;17;59;11 – 00;18;26;21
Neil McMahon
And, yeah, well, it’s a temptation for everybody. And, and writers, you know, writers like to talk. Yeah, well, you’re Irish, too, so, you know. Well, there’s that. Yeah, I didn’t. I didn’t drink until afterwards. There you go. So had you ever done anything like that before? Because, I mean, telling a story on stage like that is much different than doing a reading though I don’t think I have.

00;18;28;08 – 00;18;52;26
Neil McMahon
That was you know, that was the first time I the only thing about sometimes, you know, in readings when I do them, my tendency is to keep the reading itself real short, you know, like 5 minutes max and then get questions because they people get a lot more, you know, stay a lot more interested, you know, when it’s interactive and so on.

00;18;53;12 – 00;19;15;02
Neil McMahon
That’s what I’ve always found as an audience member and. Sure, yeah. But so I mean, that would be kind of those would be the times when I would, you know, was talking more or less off the cuff. So a little bit of that. But I don’t I don’t recall ever ever doing a sustained monologue like that. So what what was that like for you?

00;19;18;03 – 00;19;42;14
Neil McMahon
It was fun. I remember you and I rehearsed it first and, you know, I felt OK about it. I I’m I’m reasonably comfortable I guess in a situation like that, just, again, you know, maybe because of readings out there and all that many of them. But, you know, on the one hand, I was, of course, a little nervous that I’d screw it up and then on the other hand, I thought, well, so what if you do you know who’s going to know what’s what are they going to do?

00;19;42;14 – 00;20;04;11
Neil McMahon
You know, then, you know, anyway, so and it was it was wonderful, you know, I mean, a really good audience. And, you know, and you could tell that. And of course, you know, coming up, being up there with John and and all that, it was it was, you know, it was it couldn’t have been better. It was a fun night.

00;20;04;11 – 00;20;36;01
Neil McMahon
I remember it was also he gave a great talk. He did. And it was also packed. Yeah, it was. We had no I mean, as far as the roster, we had 11 storytellers that night. Right, right. Right. And, you know, eight is the sweet spot. Hey Storytellers is about what people can tolerate as far as attention span goes and it was part of the festival, the book right then it was like, oh, another, another author wants to do this.

00;20;36;03 – 00;21;02;23
Neil McMahon
Okay, now. Okay. Yeah, it’s buried my mind somewhere. I remember if I could ever think, yeah, electrical and what’s that? Spoon it out of my memory. Yeah. Well, is there anything that you want listeners to hear or to know about your story before we wrap it up? I don’t know what what I would say about about the new book or the or the old stuff.

00;21;02;23 – 00;21;20;21
Neil McMahon
Just if you’re going to see if you’re going to write, you’re going to write and, you know, write try to be smart about it. If you can make some money, great but you’re going to write what you want to. It’s going to come out somehow, you know what’s in it. Oh, here’s how about if I ask this question.

00;21;21;17 – 00;21;30;08
Marc Moss
If you could tell your 20 year old self some advice from you. Now, what would you tell him?

00;21;40;29 – 00;22;08;00
Neil McMahon
If I knew that I wanted to write, which I didn’t by that age, by the time I was 25, you know, my late twenties, I started getting more serious about it. I would certainly get some kind of go into some kind of line of work that’s a lot more conducive. That’s not the right word. But you know what I mean?

00;22;08;29 – 00;22;39;03
Neil McMahon
Would give you much more material, you know, whether it’s like Michael Connolly was a journalist, a lot of people have done that. Obviously, physicians lawyers, whatever something besides swinging a hammer, you know, which I did for much of my life. So just so you’d have that experience to draw and then maybe be smarter about money and some other things like that, smarter about money, isn’t that always the truth?

00;22;39;26 – 00;23;04;29
Neil McMahon
Yeah, it really is. It’s some of that was generational because, you know, I think, you know, in the seventies, as you know, kind of when I was coming up, it was, you you know, we didn’t have this atmosphere that we do know about, you know, sort of everything being contingent on that and, you know, students being swamped by loan debts and you know, the markets as all you hear about Wall Street and so on, that stuff was pretty well muted.

00;23;04;29 – 00;23;20;13
Neil McMahon
And it was you know, you went out and worked and drew wages and, you know, put your money in a savings account. And so it kind of snuck up on me. I wasn’t paying attention. But nowadays I think you’ve got to pay a lot more attention to it. And just to get by, what’s the savings account. Yeah, exactly.

00;23;21;06 – 00;23;41;08
Neil McMahon
Yeah. That’s you know, nowadays, you know, that really was the way it was. You put it in and it was, you know, three or 4% and it was steady and you know, it didn’t disappear overnight, you know, because Wall Street went crazy and so on and so forth. But those days are gone. Yeah. Anyway, so it seems like there are a lot of writers and Zoeller who swing a hammer.

00;23;42;23 – 00;24;02;20
Neil McMahon
Well, a lot of us did. Zupan, I of course. Yeah. And I remember thinking, you know, Mark Gibbons worked as a mover and Bob Reid was a cop all those years. And, you know, I keep going down the line of thinking of a lot of, you know, a lot of different people from the women to, you know, gooks or whatever.

00;24;03;07 – 00;24;19;26
Marc Moss
Yep. When are you going to get up there and tell us something? I did one, I don’t know, a couple of years ago. I, I try not to make it be about me. You know, I want to focus on other people, but I can’t remember what the theme was, but it was just too good to pass up the story that I told was about.

00;24;20;17 – 00;24;49;28
Marc Moss
I lived in Gardner, Montana, and I didn’t have a car and also a big Bruce Springsteen fan. And he had just done the E Street Band reunion and was touring and the closest he was going to come was Fargo, North Dakota. And so I I bought for tickets and didn’t have a way to get there. And so I’m not paying attention to the time.

00;24;50;26 – 00;25;12;03
Marc Moss
And all of a sudden I look down and I see that it’s like 2 seconds left and I’m not anywhere near done. And the gong person is a friend of mine, Marissa. She’s standing up like a like a batter about to hit a home run, and she’s just wound up the gong and she plays into it as loud as she can.

00;25;12;15 – 00;25;33;06
Marc Moss
She’s laughing her ass off. Everyone in the place is cracking up because they know I’ve broken my own rules. Exactly. Is this a heal thyself? Yeah. Yeah. So it was that was the last time I did one. It was pretty fun. Oh, that’s a great story. Yeah. I don’t know. I guess we’ll see what themes pop up then.

00;25;34;22 – 00;25;54;26
Marcf Moss
All right, we’re we’re we have just as much talent in this town as L.A. or New York or anybody else. Austin? Yeah. Yeah, so that’s been a lot of fun. It’s a great town. We’re lucky to live here. We are. We’re we’re very blessed. And I can’t imagine living in a big city right now. God, I grew up in Chicago.

00;25;55;02 – 00;26;18;12
Marc Moss
I know fast enough, right well, I won’t keep you. I know you’re cool. Instead of swinging a hammer, you’re swinging at those things. Swinging my fingers it’s a pleasure to talk, Mark. Hey, it was great talking to you, Neal. Fantastic. You’re my best to Joyce. I will say hi to camp, OK, my friend. All right.

00;26;21;05 – 00;26;26;13
Marc Moss
Thanks, Neal. And thank you for listening today. Next week, I catch up with melody rates.

00;26;27;05 – 00;26;41;04
Melody Rice
I walk into this barber shop, and I say, hey, I’m wondering if you’re interested in hiring somebody to be in that second chair. Yours. And the guy turns and looks at me and he says, I don’t hire women.

00;26;41;29 – 00;27;02;00
Marc Moss
Tune in for our conversation on the next Tell US Something podcast. Please remember to save the date for Missoula. Gibbs May 5th through the sixth Missoula Gibbs is a 24 hour online giving event. Remember to support Tell US Something during Missoula. Gibbs May 5th through the sixth. Learn More at Missoula gives dot org thanks to our in-kind sponsors.

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Marc Moss

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Marc Moss
If you’re in Missoula, you can catch them live at a union club on May 14th. Find them at Cash for Clunkers Bandcamp to learn more about. Tell us on. Please visit. tellussomething.org

 

In this episode of the podcast, Brian Upton sits down with Tell Us Something Executive Director Marc Moss to talk about his story “Parting Ways with Henry Miller in Egypt”, which he told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT in June 2015. The theme that night was “Oops! I Changed my Mind!”. They also talk about his extended family in Egypt, about Henry Miller and separating the art from the artist, and about the atmosphere at a Tell Us Something live in-person event.

Transcript : "Parting Ways With Henry Miller in Egypt" story and Interview with Brian Upton

[music]

Brian Upton: My stress just was on a huge upward trajectory about that book and who may find it or how I can get rid of it before somebody nails me for violating Egypt anti-pornography laws.

Marc Moss: Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast, I’m Marc Moss.

This week on the podcast, I sit down with Brian Upton to talk about his story “Parting Ways with Henry Miller in Egypt”, which he told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT in June 2015.

Brian Upton: one thing I’m appreciating about this conversation is that I can also set the record straight because that was, that was definitely kind of traumatic for me. , but really the defining, , Aspect of that trip was getting to meet my wife’s family and the relatives.

The theme that night was “Oops! I Changed my Mind!”.

We also talk about his extended family in Egypt, about Henry Miller and separating the art from the artist, and about the atmosphere at a Tell Us Something live in-person event.

Thank you for joining me as I take you behind the scenes at Tell Us Something — to meet the storytellers behind the stories. In each episode, I sit down with a Tell Us Something storyteller alumni. We chat about what they’ve been up to lately and about their experience sharing their story live on stage. Sometimes we get extra details about their story, and we always get to know them a little better.

Before we get to Brian’s story and our subsequent conversation…

I am so excited to tell you that the next in-person Tell Us Something storytelling event will be March 30 at The Wilma.

The theme is “Stone Soup”. 7 storytellers will share their true personal story without notes on the theme “Stone Soup”.

We are running at 75% capacity, which allows for listeners to really spread out at The Wilma. Learn more and get your tickets at logjampresents.com

Brian Upton shared his story in front of a live audience at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT in June of 2015. The theme was “Oops! I Changed my Mind!”. Brian Upton buys Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France. He begins reading the book in Alexandria, Egypt and discovers that the book is considered pornography in Egypt. Thanks for listening.

Brian Upton: It started out in Arab spring 2011 and the Tahrir square revolution in Egypt, my wife, Dina, and I decided that it would be a good time to take our kids are eight and 10 year old kids to Egypt to see the country and to see their family and relatives. My wife’s parents had come over from Egypt and she was born here, but her mom actually brought her to Alexandria, Egypt to go to an American school.

So she has dual citizenship and she actually had an Egyptian passport at the time. She’d met her relatives and family, but I’ve never been to Egypt. Our kids had never been there and they’d never met the family. So it was a really exciting. When Deena booked the tickets over there, she got lucky and she was able to get a three-day layover in Paris on the way to Egypt.

So how great was that? I was excited because there’s a spectacular bookstore there called Shakespeare and company that I’d never been to. I don’t know how many of, you know, Shakespeare and company, but for those that don’t, it’s a hundred year old bookstore. That was a favorite haunt of the lost generation and all sorts of cool characters.

And I wanted to check that place out. So we take our trip, we get to Shakespeare and company. It’s fantastic bookstore. I wanted to find it a cool book, a great souvenir of that bookstore to take with me something I can’t just find anywhere I was coming up dry. So I thought, well, I’ll just come up with a book by somebody that had a connection there.

And I thought Henry Miller, I’ve never read any Henry Miller and Tropic of cancer is supposed to be a big deal. So I’ll get that. I go to the Henry Miller section. Of course there’s no Tropic of cancer. So, I don’t know any other Henry Miller books. I just look at the shelf and I see a book called Tropic of Capricorn.

So good enough. It’s a Tropic. So I picked up Tropic of Capricorn. That’s my souvenir of Shakespeare and company stuff. It in the suitcase, we finish up Paris, go to Egypt, go to Cairo, go to Alexandria, fantastic trip meeting my wife’s relatives, my relatives now. And, uh, it was just super, I started reading Henry Miller for the first time in Alexandria on our last night there.

Our next stop was flying up to upper Egypt in Luxor where the valley of the Kings are in a number of temples. Luxor in the nineties was the site of a terrorist attack on tourists at one of the temples there. And as a result of that, Egypt has co-opted the military to be security for the tourist infrastructure down in Luxor.

So what that means is when we get to our hotel in Luxe, We go through a metal screener and there’s military people acting as security in the hotel lobby, which is kind of unusual, really nice lobby, very comfortable lobby. So actually that night after we’d gone out in the town and we got back to the hotel room, everybody was ready to go to sleep except me because I’m still jet lagged.

So the kids in Dina want the lights out and going to sleep. I told Dean and I’ll just read down in the lobby. And so I get my Henry Miller book out and I say, I’m going to go down the lobby. And Dina says you can’t do that. I said, why can’t I do that? I’m just going to go down to the lobby to read. And she looks at the book and she says, that’s pornography.

And my face is all wrinkled up. I look at the book and oh, and the cover of the book, which I didn’t really think about when I grabbed it in Paris was a very tastefully done, black and white photo of a woman. From the knees up to the neck, which was all Henry Miller cared about. If any of you have read Henry Miller, it all makes sense.

But did I say it was tastefully done because it was tastefully done very skimpy panties, no top. So in Egypt, absolutely. That qualifies as pornography. So I put the book away and got another book, went down to the lobby, read that and everything. I watched the military men go up and down the lobby hallway while I’m sitting on my comfortable couch.

I go back up to the room to get to sleep. And you know how nighttime is the time when all the great worries come out? Well, I I’m trying to get to sleep in, uh, the gravity of this situation has impressed upon me that I am sitting here in Egypt with pornography, with contraband and. I was dialed right back to high school.

When I was in high school, I was in model UN and I remember reading a whole bunch of accounts of primarily Westerners that were caught in developing world countries with contraband, usually drugs and the things that happened to them in prison. And it terrified me. And I remember vividly thinking, I will never go to a country where I could even conceivably be caught with contraband and have something like that happen to me.

So I’m on my family vacation with my children in a country like that, carrying contraband, and now I’m stressed. And I’m also remembering by the way, for anyone that remembers midnight express the movie, not midnight run the Robert DeNiro movie, but midnight express about the American that got caught with contraband and Turkey and sentenced to life in prison and a Turkish prison, not an uplifting movie.

And I remember when I saw that in college. It reinforced. I will never go to a country like that and be caught with contraband. It’s not going to happen. I will avoid those. So that was my thinking for the night. And the next morning when we got up, I was concerned at that book is sitting in the room and whoever’s going to clean the room.

I’d come across this pornography, be alarmed, contact the military, my pipeline to prison. So I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t throw it away. I would, I didn’t feel like I could stuff it under a mattress. Cause I thought. Maybe I might look under the mattress for things like this and B if they’re just making the bed, they might come across it.

So I did the only thing I could do, which was just wrap it up in a shirt, stick it in a bag, wrap up the bag and some more clothes and put it in the middle of my suitcase and hope my suitcase doesn’t get ransacked by. And it worked. We went out, saw valley of the Kings, had a great day, put it out in my mind, all was well.

And same day or next day, same thing. It was pretty much out of my mind for the most part at night, I was still worried about midnight express, but where everything amped up was our next leg of the trip. And our final leg of the whole Egypt vacation was to go to Sharmel shake on the Sinai. The red sea. So we have to fly from Luxor to Cairo and then back over to Sharmel shake.

And I’ve got the book in my suitcase because I don’t have a good place to dispose of it. And there’s military patrolling in the lobby. So I’m nervous and all of my high school model, UN torture accounts and midnight express recollections are just forefront of my head. There’s nothing to be done. So we checked the suitcase and I just hoped.

Nobody was going to be looking in the suitcase. And all I could think of was, I don’t know if the airline personnel rifle through suitcases here. I don’t know if airport security rifles through suitcases, if they do random checks. But when we went to Egypt, there were far less tourists because of the economy and the political situation than there typically are.

So the odds of my suitcase being ransacked in my pornography, contraband found were much higher than they otherwise would be. And I was thinking about. But when we finally get to the airport at Shama shake, we go to the baggage carousel. I am not panicking, but I’m nervous and I’m waiting for the bag to come out.

And, you know, I don’t know if you guys have the same experience. I do my bags always the last one out, regardless of the airport. So I had that in mind and I was prepared, but we waited for a long time for the bags to come out. And finally my son suitcase comes out. Okay, good. That means our suitcases are here.

That’s good. And then after a while my daughter, Alex, his suitcase comes out. Good. We wait still no suitcase for me. We wait, my wife’s suitcase comes out. Okay. That’s good. Three to four. Where is my suitcase. So I’m waiting and waiting. And finally the baggage carousel stops and my suitcase isn’t there.

What are the odds that only my suitcase is not showing up? I mean, that’s, what’s screaming in my head amongst all the visuals of midnight express. So there weren’t a whole lot of English speakers there, but Dina speaks Arabic and she was able to find one of the airline staffers who’s assured her that there were no other suitcases.

So my suitcase was gone. He said, he’d make some calls. So we waited for 20 minutes and I’m sweating. He comes back and assures us that the suitcase is in Cairo. It got held up. He doesn’t know why he will look into it and give us a call at the hotel. So rather than spontaneously combust, Tried to clamp everything down for the sake of the children.

And we all went to the hotel and I was getting panicky at this point. I was a little panicky because this was way too close to midnight express in the prison pipeline than I ever wanted to be. And I was legitimately nervous. So we go there and then Deena and I are trying to have the conversation with.

Explaining to the kids. Exactly. What’s going on, how daddy brought contraband at Egypt. And we were trying to have the conversation about who’s going to go back to the airport when we get this call. And what’s that call going to sound like? So we’re talking about that and I say, look, this is my bag. So I should go there because it’s not your problem.

You shouldn’t have to go there. And if something happens with it, then I should be the one to be there. Dina is much more logical smart and everything else than I am. And she pointed out the fact that I can’t communicate with anybody at the airport valid point. And she also, which I found out later, she was putting on a good face.

Cause she was as panicked as I was. But at the time I didn’t know that. And she said, I’m sure this is just a mix up. And it’s just like a random mistake. So let me go to the airport and clear it up. Oh, We got a call after we sweated all afternoon. And all I can think about was what I’ve already told you.

And we waited all afternoon for that call and I’m trying to figure out how do we react when one of us is arrested in a foreign country and the other has to take care of the kids and get them back. What’s the number of the consulate. We finally get a call and they said our suitcases here, so we can go pick it up.

And that’s all they told us. So at least there’s no bad news over the phone. There was no military guy knocking on our door, but Dina goes off to the airport. And so I’m left with the kids and I’m just realizing, you know, she is not only in Egypt’s eyes and Egyptian citizen, but I’m also realizing that the bag that I use for this.

Was her suitcase and had her identification on it. So if they rifled through and found our pornography in our suitcase, it would have her name on it. And she’s an Egyptian citizen. And that could make things a lot more difficult if we’re trying to extricate ourselves out of criminal charges in Egypt. So that’s how I managed to ramp up the stress level in my head while she was gone.

And it was kind of a fever pitch. She comes back finally after about 45 minutes and she’s got. And my suitcase is unmolested and Henry Miller is in the middle of it all wrapped up, just like it wasn’t Luxor. So that was a huge relief. And then my whole crescendo of panic and stress and midnight express was receding, but it left a heavy residue of paranoia because now I see this book, this Henry Miller book that I don’t want to see again, that’s ruined my vacation, caused me more stress.

In years, I’m getting rid of this book. How do I get rid of the book? Because the wastebasket, the mattress thing, it’s the same as the hotel in Luxor. I don’t have a good choice here. So I just decided I’m, I’m destroying the book. I’m going outside. That’s our wastebaskets in the hallways. I’m going to destroy it.

I told Dina that and she said, all you have to do is rip up the cover. The rest is fine, and I’d read enough of the Henry Miller book already to realize it. If somebody were to see me throw out the book, fish it out and leave. The text is much more pornographic than the tastefully done, black and white photo on the cover.

So I didn’t want to risk it because I was completely paranoid at this point. So paranoid that rather than use the wastebasket on our hallway, I went up to slights of stairs. I told Dean and the kids I’m going to meet you in the restaurant go. So they left. I went up two flights of stairs. I ripped up the.

And I didn’t want to just throw the book in the wastebasket because you all realize that somebody could just walk around the corner out of the elevator and see me fish out the book and then pipeline to prison. So I figured if I had defaced that nobody would fish it out of the wastebasket. So I’m just frantically tearing up the pages, stuffing them in the waistband.

I bought a quarter of the book, go down a flight of stairs, repeat, go down a flight, skip my floor because I’m not going to have the incriminating evidence on my floor. I’m a smart criminal, right? Go down one more floor, shred everything while I’m looking around madly stuffed it in the waste basket. And then I’ve just got a little bit left.

So I go to the restaurant, there’s a bathroom off the restaurant. I walk in casually with the book under my shirt. I look in the bathroom. There’s nobody in there. So I shred the rest of the book, stuffed it in the waste basket, grabbed some paper towels stuff and over those pages. And then only then after Henry Miller is safely stuffed in the wastebasket of the restaurant bathroom.

I went over at dinner with Dean and the kids we snorkeled, we scoop it up. We had a great vacation. I was free and it was a fantastic feeling. We ended our vacation and two months later, it’s my birthday. Dina gave me a copy of Tropic of cancer by Henry Miller. So I was finally able to read Tropic of cancer and I didn’t like it very much. .

 

Brian is originally from the Great Lakes country and came to Missoula from Indonesia in the mid-90’s to go to the University of Montana. He has since discovered that Butte is the more interesting place, but is settling for Missoula anyway.

I caught up with Brian in August of 2020.

Brian Upton: Hey Brian, can you hear me okay? Yeah. Can you hear me?

So have

Marc Moss: you listened to your story since he told it?

Brian Upton: You know, I think I listened to it once. Just stay here. It and that was probably, uh, two, three years ago. It’s hard doing it yourself. It

Marc Moss: is hard to listen to yourself, but I ended up having to do it a lot. So I’ve gotten used to it.

I listened to it again today. The first time since. Um, at the time I wasn’t the one producing the podcast. So I think the only time I really heard it was when you did it on stage. And I listened to it again today. How much did you practice that?

Brian Upton: Well, it doesn’t show, but I’ve practiced it quite a few times.

Your workshop was a huge help and kind of getting some response and figuring out how to refine it. But because I was having a hard time keeping to the time limit with. I didn’t keep too. I, I ran over it. I dunno how many times? Probably at least six to eight, if not over a dozen times. Just mostly to try to get it to 10 minutes.

Marc Moss: The first time you were in the motel. I forgot about you putting in the suitcase.

Brian Upton: I should have destroyed the book. Initially saved myself a lot of.

Marc Moss: All right.

Brian Upton: That wasn’t me trying to build the suspense. It was. That’s how it went. My stress just was on a huge upward trajectory about that book and who may find it or how I can get rid of it before somebody nails me for violating Egypt anti-pornography laws.

Marc Moss: So they actually have laws on the books.

Brian Upton: Yeah. I have not seen them, but my wife who used to live there assured me that it’s illegal. You know, it’s, it’s not Saudi Arabia, but it’s still a Muslim country. And I I’m sure I believe it.

Marc Moss: Yeah, I believe it too. And I’ve not even after you told the story, I thought, man, I really had to see midnight express and I never got a chance to see it yet, but I can imagine it.

Wasn’t very pleasant.

Brian Upton: Midnight express is I haven’t seen it in probably a couple of decades, but I did see it twice at different times. One when I was probably just out of high school and the second probably when I was around 30. And it’s a good movie. It’s a, it’s a compelling story. It’s a very good movie, but also it hits you probably particularly if you’re male, it’s in a pretty visceral way.

And that that’s kind of why it was in my frame of reference while I was there in Egypt and feeling like I was susceptible to the criminal justice system. Yeah.

Marc Moss: Well, one of the things that I appreciated so much about your story is many people want to tell a story about traveling and it’s such a difficult thing to do, right?

Because you know, you’ve been traveling. Potentially weeks or months. And how are you going to pick the one thing, the one event that epitomizes the trip, you can’t include everything. So what are you going to do?

Brian Upton: You know, market and a lot of ways. That’s true. But one thing I’m appreciating about this conversation is that I can also set the record straight because that was, that was definitely kind of traumatic for me. , but really the defining, , Aspect of that trip was getting to meet my wife’s family and the relatives.

I mean, now my relatives over in Egypt, in Cairo and Alexandria, and they were so gracious and friendly and warm, all of them and her father’s side was a very big family and they actually, so it was. , so lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, and that experience was just so fantastic. And that’s how I remember the trip.

That’s the first thing I think of. I don’t think of my trauma over Henry Miller’s book. That’s not the first thing that I remember thankfully.

Marc Moss: Right. And that’s what I’m, I guess one of the points I’m making is because. That’s a completely different story. The story of meeting your wife’s family in a foreign country who has a completely different culture.

And that, that story, I think, would be a fascinating one to develop as well, but it would be a completely different trajectory.

Brian Upton: Right. And, and I love that story and that memory, it was, that was my first time to Egypt. That was my first time meeting any of these relatives. So yeah, that was. It was pretty amazing.

It was pretty amazing. And it’s a total counterpoint in the total opposite side of the coin to that terrible few hours. When I was waiting for my luggage to arrive, to see whether somebody had taken that book out of it

Marc Moss: has, has your, um, extended family. Dina side of the family. Have they listened to your story at all? Do you know?

Brian Upton: I, I highly doubt it. I, I’m not even sure how many of them really speak English. There were just a few that, that were very fluent in English that kind of served as our translator, Dina speaks Arabic, but I don’t.

So I, I highly doubt any. Would have caused to have Googled and found it. We certainly didn’t bring it to anyone’s attention. Right.

How many

Marc Moss: languages does Dina speak?

Brian Upton: She speaks three Indonesian, English and Arabic. I think she would tell you her Arabic is a little rusty conversationally and she knows some French. She took French for a number of years in college or high school.

Marc Moss: Actually makes a lot of sense, knowing what she does at the university, with all the international students that come through.

Brian Upton: Yeah. That’s definitely her passion and she’s so good at interacting with all sorts of people from anywhere on the planet. It’s always a pleasure to, to see that and to see the relationship she builds.

It’s pretty amazing.

Marc Moss: Well, it sounds like your experience meeting her family. You can see where she gets it.

Brian Upton: Yes. And her parents both, you know, both of her parents immigrated to the United States from Egypt in the sixties, her father to go to school. So her father didn’t come from wealth or anything. And he really.

He really built up a solid foundation for his family in the United States. He came to the university of Minnesota to get his bachelor’s and he went or excuse me to get his master’s. And he got a doctorate at Oxford, Mississippi, um, after Dina was born. So she was born in Iowa where her father was teaching at Simpson college, which is the same college that.

George Washington, Carver after Iowa state university rejected him for being black. Um, Dina grew up in Iowa until she was five and then went to university of Mississippi at Oxford for her father to get a doctorate. And when he finished that he taught at university of Wyoming. So they moved there, but her father just kind of his educational pursuit.

And his Intrepid newness, uh, coming to the United States alone and teaching in rural Iowa and going to the south and getting a doctorate and living in Wyoming. He was definitely, I unfortunately never got to meet him because he passed away when Dina was 10, but, um, his fortitude and Intrepid, nearness and ability.

To obviously navigate a whole lot of human landscapes. Definitely, definitely lives on through Dina. Yeah.

Marc Moss: And what a different upbringing than you coming from Butte, America.

Brian Upton: Oh yeah. I actually grew up in rural, mid Michigan and. Lived there till I was 18. And then I met Dina our freshman year of college at American university in Washington, DC.

Um, but yeah, very different. I mean, Dina, Dina is very interesting because she knows she grew up in Iowa, Mississippi and Wyoming, but also grew up in Alexandra Egypt because after her father passed away, her mother, um, Moved to Alexandria, Egypt and Dena went to high school there at an American school and they would go back to Wyoming during the summers, but that was part of her growing up too.

So to counterbalance the deep south, the rural Midwest and Rocky mountain west with urban Alexandria, Egypt is a lot of experience growing up that I certainly didn’t have.

Marc Moss: Right. And I don’t know for whatever reason. I always imagine that you’re from BU even though I know you’re not right. I always forget that right away, but

Brian Upton: no, I love Butte so much.

Marc Moss: Did you get any sort of feedback from people who were there or heard it later after.

Brian Upton: Yeah. I heard from a few people, um, that night afterwards when we were leaving, um, and, and a few people that have heard it, um, on the Telus something website, you know, and months or years later, um, and you know, the people that, that want to say something to you about it are the ones that are being gracious and want to say something nice.

That was nice to hear. Um, but yeah, that’s about all I’ve I’ve heard.

Marc Moss: Well, before you decided to tell a story, um, your history will tell us something initially you had never heard of it. Right. And, and I think I put up tickets for, uh, like a premium for the KBG, a fundraiser, the local college readiness.

Fundraiser and you and Dina got those tickets. And then I think they were like season tickets or something. Right.

Brian Upton: Okay. Yeah. You have a really good memory. Cause I I’m trying to remember. I think that would have been in 2014 or maybe 2013 and yeah, we, I had donated to K BGA cause I think that’s a fantastic station.

Always appreciate that. And part of the premium. Yeah, years’ worth of tickets to tell us something. And I believe that’s the first time I’d heard of probably wasn’t the first time I heard of it, but the first time it really resonated with me. And then I was like, oh, wish I could go to this. Um, so we went and yeah, that was when it was at the top hat.

And the very first one, we went to it just bowled me over at great stories. You know, you have a great. Presentation of the whole thing and the way you make it an event and a community was very obvious right then and there just made a huge impression on me and it just looked fun. So I remember stalking you after the end of it, to just tell you what a good job you’re doing.

I can’t remember if I asked to do a story or if you said, do you want to do one? But I, I thought that was amazing that I could have an opportunity to do that. And I remember you writing my name down in your black book. Yeah. I

Marc Moss: have a little book that I can carry around in my back pocket for those reasons, because anybody that ever says that was great.

I always say you could do this too, because that, I mean, that’s part of the point of it, right? I can do this. Everybody has a story to tell and I want it to feel inclusive for everybody. And so when you said this was awesome and I had a good time, I immediately invited you didn’t think you would follow up at all.

Most people don’t, you know, um, and you gave me your number and then yeah.

Brian Upton: So,

Marc Moss: um, I can’t remember how long after your first time. At the show you decided that you wanted to tell a story, but, um, how did you decide that was the story that you wanted to tell?

Brian Upton: I knew that was the story I wanted to tell, because I’d already told it to, you know, groups of friends and family, because that, that was a pretty.

Scarring experience for me, but it was also, it seems to me pretty funny in retrospect, but at the time it was pretty scary. Um, so I just kind of enjoyed telling it, cause it was kind of cathartic and I always got a kick out of seeing people’s reactions to various parts of the story. So I knew that would be the story to tell.

And I don’t think I have another one that, that, uh, That is equivalent,

Marc Moss: maybe not equivalent, but I bet you have another one,

Brian Upton: maybe.

Marc Moss: So did you ever, I know that Dana for your birthday gave you a Tropic of cancer and you read it and you weren’t really that impressed by it. Did you ever get around to

Brian Upton: reading Tropic

Marc Moss: of cancer Capricorn?

Brian Upton: I did not. I. My recollection is I thought that was a little more interesting as far as I got through it in Egypt. Um, because Henry Miller was talking about growing up pretty poor and working class, New York city. I forget which borough, but he painted a pretty evocative picture of that. And it’s so different.

Um, from the New York city of today, that it’s, I found it really interesting. Um, I, I never finished Tropic of Capricorn, but when I read Tropic of cancer, it was certainly interesting in its own way. And he was pretty evocative about how living in Paris was, um, at that time around the turn of the century, I think, uh, and that also was so different than how.

Most people experience Paris now. I mean, when he writes about cold drafty flats with lots of vermin and lights and it just didn’t sound at all, like the place, most of us kind of envisioned our experience there, but the book was also, um, super massage monistic and I don’t know something about it. Really enjoy all that much, but it’s scratched the itch.

You know, he was one of the guys that Shakespeare and company in Paris, uh, that bookstore, um, he knew Paris. So it was, uh, it was a good thing to pick up in Paris. It served that purpose.

Marc Moss: He was, uh, revered enough that they created a library for him in big Sur, California, the Henry Miller library. And I had the occasion to go there and I think it was 2003 or 2004. Um, I had a job that put me on the road and it just turned out that I was on the road. In that part of the country when jello Biafra was on a spoken word tour.

Oh, wow. You know, Jello Biafra is

Marc Moss: do. Yeah. The dead Kennedys lead singer. And if

Brian Upton: you’ve ever, you heard him speak at the Henry Miller library. Yeah.

Marc Moss: And if, if you’ve ever heard him do a spoken word show, I mean, it is like Henry Rollins. On steroids. I mean, he is in your face. He is super political and the people who come to events at the Henry Miller library, some of them, it seems like maybe never have read Henry Miller.

Brian Upton: Absolutely I, yeah, you’re right about that. And I bet that you’d also be. And that Henry Miller is probably surprised a whole lot of people. I didn’t know anything about him when I picked up his books. And I can imagine if other people think they’re going to pick up some kind of quaint, uh, 19th century, early 20th century author, who, who wrote in Paris, they probably didn’t know necessarily what they’re getting into when they started reading things like Tropic of cancer.

Marc Moss: Right. And I like put Charles Bukowski in that same sort of thing, but people said about this great American poet and all of a sudden they’re in this misogynistic bullshit. Um,

Brian Upton: yeah. You know,

Marc Moss: it’s and it’s, uh, then, then we have the question. How much of that was the person and how much of that was the art and how much of that is forgivable?

If. You know, and like, I don’t have answers to any of those questions, but it’s interesting to read some of those pieces of literature. And now with the knowledge that we have go on that guide and sort of cringe.

Brian Upton: Yeah. I would say Henry Miller is pretty cringe-worthy and I certainly don’t know the answers to your questions either.

I would assert that, um, my sense of traffic, of cancers, that we were seeing a pretty unvarnished look at the man. Um, that was my sense of it. Yeah.

Marc Moss: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you want people to know about your story or your experience?

Brian Upton: Um, I think the only thing I would add is that, you know, the experience of telling it can be as you know, intimidating, a lot of people, you know, public speaking is a pretty common phobia. Um, and it can be kind of nerve wracking to kind of prepare for that and know you’re going to go up in front of a stage of people.

I would just reinforce for anybody listening that the environment you create is very, uh, friendly, nurturing. It’s, uh, it’s an environment where you don’t really feel as nervous as you might think you would. And that’s in part because of. The workshops you do, and kind of getting people used to who they’re going to be on stage with and getting used to telling their story.

But it’s also, I think, a real tribute to the community that you have built and encouraged with with that audience. I think most of the time, those audiences certainly now are, are kind of regulars. Um, and I, I can’t say enough about how you’ve cultivated a good diversity from Missoula. Of speakers. And, um, the experience is just a really good one.

And when I was on stage at the top hat, which granted is not as imposing as the wilderness stage, that that tell us something has evolved into, um, but still that was a lot of people you packed into the top hat and it wasn’t, it felt, it felt good. And, and that’s, I think attribute to you. And I’ll also add that I’d never even heard when I was up on the stage, the little gentle gong that tells me I exceeded the time limit.

So, so you’re gentle to your participants in many ways.

Marc Moss: Well, the gong is as much for the storyteller as it is for the audience to key them in to know that we’re about to wrap. But

Brian Upton: also I’ve been here when I was the storyteller.

Marc Moss: Yeah. And I think at the time I think I might’ve been the one with the gone.

Now I’ve got a governor who is a loud enough timekeeper, , Marissa Crerar. So if you’ve ever listened to or ever been in the audience, you can recognize her laugh. She has this very distinct laugh.

It’s interesting to see, uh, Events are evolving during this time.

COVID and, , the, , live streaming events in particular. , the April show that we did the storytellers knocked it out of the park. I saw it and they didn’t have any interaction with the audience at all. Um, and I asked one of them, I had the opportunity to talk to her pretty in depth about that experience.

And she said it was all. Oh, the green room. , , I had a little breakout rooms, , for the storytellers to go quote unquote backstage. And they were just building each other up, back there. You know, they weren’t even listening to the stories as they were being told, because they’d heard them enough and we practiced them and us.

They were just like backstage having fun off my.

They all bonded and they’d never met each other in person.

Brian Upton: Well, that’s, I didn’t know you had done that. Um, that’s great. I, I really appreciate that. Tell us something is doing the virtual events during the pandemic, because a that’s really about the only way you can do it. And it’s just a great way to introduce, I think a lot of other people. The whole, tell us something, um, kind of event, but that’s, I can see some of the storytellers maybe being glad they’re not in front of hundreds of people on a stage with lights shining in their eyes.

Um, and maybe having it be an easier experience, but I can also see it being perhaps a little more difficult because you’re just trying to stare into a camera to make eye contact with the audience. And as being a little kind of empty with no feedback. So I guess it would depend on the person. I could see it going both ways, being maybe easier and a better experience, or maybe a more difficult or experience without all the people, but I’m sure, glad you’re doing it because yeah, we were part of that audience and, and again, I mean, those, those stories are great.

And I guess one of the other things that would be, uh, I’d like to comment on, especially for anybody that hasn’t been to a tell us something event is one of the things I’ve always appreciated too, is that in a number of the events, there’ll be a side splitting, hilarious story. The same night as there can be a really, really moving emotional, sometimes traumatic.

Story that just in some ways they just don’t go together at all. And in other ways it’s a great way to, um, really appreciate the, either emotional depth of one story or the humor in another story, because you get to compare them to each other. Okay. It kind of lets you kind of travel a whole human gamut in one night and I’ve always appreciated that, especially when, and I think this is how you usually structure it when sometimes there’s a traumatic event that somebody recounting is followed by something that has a lot more levity and it is funny and, and that’s always a nicer way to, to travel that emotional path.

Marc Moss: I think of it, like you would think of making a mix tape or, uh, if you’re a musician creating the structure of an album, what songs you want to include, it’s one thing. But then the order of the songs is just as important. And I learned that the hard way, because one night there were, I think, five. Pretty heavy stories.

And I stack them pretty close to each other without any levity in between. And I had people walking out because they could not handle it. And I had people talk to me later and say, man, those stories were good, but I just couldn’t, I couldn’t take it anymore. And I had to leave and that taught me a lot. Um, those conversations were important to hear.

And when I started thinking about it in the way that you would think about. What do you want to include in a mix tape or if you’re an author or like what short stories do you want to include and in what order, or if you’re a poet, you know, how do you want to order the poems you have in a collection? I think the order is just as important as the stories themselves.

And that’s my job as a curator is to try to determine how are these stories going to land most effectively for the list. So that the storyteller and their experience can be the most effectively honored.

Brian Upton: And sometimes I think you do a great job really easy.

Marc Moss: Well, thanks. I appreciate that. Um, but it took years to figure that out.

I

Brian Upton: love the mixed tape analogy. I think that’s perfect. And, and, uh, I’m a little concerned if you had people that had walked out after four or five. Stories of levity who wants to, who can’t take five grade funny stories? No, no. They were the heavy stories. Oh, they were heavy. I misunderstood. They were

Marc Moss: five, five stories of heaviness was sort of lined up one against each other.

Um, and that was a big mistake on my part to do that, to do it that way. And, um, People let me know. And I’m really glad they did because I probably would have made that mistake multiple times, but I only had to make it once. And that might be the only time in my life where I’ve only had to make a mistake once before I’ve learned the lesson.

Brian. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. Um, I appreciate you and all your support of telecommuting over the years, and I’m glad that you were able to participate. Okay.

Brian Upton: It’s always great to talk to you, mark, and, um, thanks for the opportunity and thanks for everything you’re doing for the community that you enjoy.

So have given us a lot and we appreciate it.

Marc Moss: Well, I appreciate. , acknowledging Joyce. She doesn’t often get credit and she’s just as important as me in this work that we’re doing. So I appreciate it. I appreciate you. And I hope you have a story worthy weekend.

Brian Upton: You too, Marc . Thank you. All right. Thanks, Brian.

All right, we’ll see you.

Marc Moss: Okay.

Thanks, Brian. And thank *you* for listening today.

Next week, I catch up with Laura King.

Laura King: Yeah, so actually I’m super excited about the project itself and gathering these stories. My cousin and I have two great uncles who are pretty interesting historical figures and lots of glass, both lawyers, and I’m a lawyer.

So that’s kinda fun. , one of them was very conservative and the other one was very liberal. So we’ve got a guy who is an FBI and involved in propaganda, supporting Japanese internment, on the one hand. And then we’ve got, the other guy who was, a criminal defense attorney and, very active in, you know, abolition of criminal punishment and, the efforts early, early efforts to legalize marijuana.

Marc Moss: Tune in for her story, and our conversation, on the next Tell Us Something podcast.

Thanks to Cash for Junkers, who provided the music for the podcast. Find them at cashforjunkersband.com

Thanks to our in-kind sponsors:

Joyce Gibbs: Hi, it’s Joyce from Joyce of tile. If you need tile work done. Give me a shout. I specialize in custom tile installations. Learn more and see some examples of my [email protected]

Gabriel Silverman: Hey, this is Gabe from gecko designs. We’re proud to sponsor. Tell us something. Learn more at gecko design socks. Oh, it

Marc Moss: was a little broadcasting company. Learn more at missoulabroadcasting.com. Float Missoula. Learn more at floatmsladotcomandmissoulaevents.net podcast production by me, Marc Moss. Remember to get your tickets for the next in-person tell us something storytelling.

Marc Moss: I live at the Willma on March 30th, tickets and more information at log jam, presents.com. To learn more about tell us something, please visit tell us something.org.

Because storytelling is an art, I’ve always hired local artists to design a poster for each event. The posters of Tell Us Something are amazing in their own right, and I thought that it would be fun to sit down with some of the artists to chat about their process and see what makes them tick. What inspires them, how they work, and how they came to design the poster that they designed for Tell Us Something. So, this week on the podcast, join me as we go behind the scenes with local artist Courtney Blazon. Courtney designed the poster for the June 2019 show. The theme that night was “What Are the Chances?”

Transcript : Interview with Courtney Blazon

welcome to the tell something podcast

00:01
i’m mark moss i know what i’m doing but
00:04
if somebody wanted to know how do you
00:06
become an artist i’d be like
00:07
you just work hard since around july of
00:10
2020
00:11
i have been interviewing tell us
00:13
something storyteller alumni about their
00:15
experience sharing a story on the
00:16
telesumming stage
00:17
why they chose to share a story and what
00:20
they’ve been up to
00:21
since having shared their story i have a
00:23
lot more of those interviews to share
00:24
with you
00:25
this week though i’m going to introduce
00:27
you to one of tell something’s poster
00:29
artists
00:30
for me it was important for my life and
00:32
especially
00:33
important for my work that i had a
00:35
studio at home where i could shut the
00:37
door
00:38
where like at a certain time at the end
00:41
of the day
00:42
i’m not looking at that piece of work
00:43
anymore because storytelling is an art
00:46
i’ve always hired local artists
00:48
to design a poster for each event the
00:51
posters of tell us something
00:52
are amazing in their own right and i
00:55
thought that it would be
00:56
fun to sit down with some of the artists
00:59
to chat about their process
01:01
and see what makes them tick what
01:03
inspires them
01:04
how they work and how they came to
01:06
design the poster
01:07
that they designed for telesomething so
01:10
this week on the podcast join me
01:12
as we go behind the scenes with local
01:15
artist
01:15
courtney blazon courtney designed the
01:18
poster for the june 2019
01:20
show the theme was what are the chances
01:24
i kind of knew pretty quickly what i was
01:26
gonna do for it
01:28
and i usually settle on an idea pretty
01:32
quickly
01:33
and i don’t know if that’s just because
01:35
i’m generally like
01:37
this is the time i have allotted for
01:39
this you better snap to it
01:41
courtney blaizon is an artist and
01:43
illustrator living and working in
01:44
missoula montana
01:46
she graduated from parsons school of
01:48
design where she earned her bfa in
01:50
illustration
01:52
she’s shown her work in missoula at the
01:54
brink gallery
01:55
dana gallery allez gallery and the
01:58
missoula art museum
02:00
outside of montana she has shown work in
02:02
seattle portland
02:03
new york philadelphia san francisco and
02:06
most recently at the center for the arts
02:08
theater gallery in jackson wyoming
02:12
hello good morning hi how are you
02:16
um well how are you doing good thank you
02:20
good thanks for agreeing to talk to me
02:23
today
02:24
courtney’s work has been featured in new
02:26
american paintings the western edition
02:28
studio visit magazine and juxtapose.com
02:32
she is a past recipient of a montana
02:34
arts council artists
02:35
innovation award courtney is represented
02:38
by radius gallery in missoula montana
02:40
big thanks to our title sponsor the good
02:42
food store and thanks to our enduring
02:44
sponsors
02:45
cabinetparts.com and blackboard
02:47
communications
02:48
thanks to our champion sponsor trufood
02:50
missoula and a very special thanks to
02:52
our blue ribbon sponsor
02:53
joyce of tile courtney blaizon’s pen and
02:57
marker drawings reference
02:58
fields of science history cultural
03:01
studies myths and fairy tales
03:03
her images take us someplace between the
03:05
known world
03:06
and a dreamscape a surreal marriage of
03:09
naturalism and fantasy the results can
03:12
be simultaneously whimsical
03:14
and grotesque witty as well as
03:17
disturbing
03:18
the tension of these unions suggests our
03:20
own struggle
03:21
to achieve balance in a chaotic world i
03:24
caught up with courtney blaizon last
03:25
summer
03:26
we chatted about the historical context
03:28
much of her work references
03:30
life as a professional artist and some
03:32
of the large-scale works
03:34
that she has done recently before
03:36
finally talking about the poster that
03:37
she made for tell us something
03:39
in june of 2019 i’ve also been thinking
03:42
about these interviews as a record
03:45
of a specific time in our collective
03:46
pandemic history
03:48
they shared glimpses into the moments of
03:50
life during quarantine
03:51
how we were coping and how we are
03:53
somehow continuing to go about
03:55
our daily lives
04:00
i just moved to a new place so that was
04:04
really nice
04:05
yeah lots of very i mean different than
04:09
a normal summer
04:10
like yeah for sure yeah um
04:15
yeah like our maid fares aren’t
04:17
happening
04:18
this summer in the same way so that’s
04:22
weird
04:23
are you doing a online version of the
04:25
maid fair
04:27
i mean somewhat but we’re basically just
04:30
posting everybody who would have been in
04:32
the maid fairs
04:33
page and sort of letting them offer
04:36
discounts if they want
04:38
but we’re not doing anything like
04:40
virtual
04:41
with video or yeah i
04:44
i just i feel like that kind of bubble
04:49
where that was like at the beginning of
04:52
sort of quarantine
04:53
like there was a lot of live events and
04:55
i felt like they were really popular
04:57
and like really necessary and i feel
04:59
like now
05:00
now that it’s summer especially and
05:02
we’ve kind of gotten used to the
05:05
the whole thing like i don’t know that
05:07
we’d be able to capture an
05:09
audience in the middle of summer inside
05:13
you know like i feel like that was the
05:15
way that we are all connecting
05:17
at the beginning of this and i don’t
05:20
know if now people feel like they can
05:21
just be together outside
05:24
distance that it’s just like
05:27
oh yeah it’s interesting it just doesn’t
05:29
seem like
05:30
it didn’t it ended up not seeming worth
05:32
our time
05:33
and a lot of our major artists didn’t
05:35
want to
05:38
extend their time towards trying to do
05:41
something special so
05:44
summer in montana is pretty short
05:48
take advantage of it yeah especially now
05:51
because
05:53
who knows what the winter is going to
05:54
look like right yeah
05:56
exactly yeah we just want to be outside
05:59
and
05:59
doing stuff as much as possible right
06:03
yeah i know some of the art fairs around
06:05
the state have still
06:06
happened and that’s another thing we
06:09
struggled with
06:10
but we just felt pretty worried about
06:16
like if if an outbreak had been traced
06:18
to our event we would have felt
06:20
really irresponsible right and and we
06:23
wouldn’t
06:24
uh we’re not even in a phase where we
06:26
would have been able to allow that big
06:28
of a crowd anyway
06:29
with missoula county so yeah so we just
06:32
decided to be
06:34
preemptively just cancel it and then
06:37
hope that we can recoup with
06:39
some of the other events that we have
06:43
i’m lucky that i don’t have all my eggs
06:44
in that basket though
06:46
so i’ve got other ways that i can still
06:49
make money and stuff
06:50
have you been talking to a lot of
06:52
artists and writers and
06:54
creatives i talk to
06:58
only one other tell us something poster
06:59
artist in the way that we’re talking
07:02
you’ve heard this idea on the tell us
07:03
something podcast before that
07:05
replicating
07:06
the in-person live performance vibe that
07:08
a traditional tell us something brings
07:10
is very difficult yeah i just feel like
07:13
certain things like in our
07:16
experience like in our in our creative
07:19
experiences
07:20
can translate to online and can be
07:23
just as successful if not more in some
07:26
ways
07:27
and then other things we’re just i think
07:29
we’re finding just can’t
07:31
you can’t duplicate it right yeah
07:35
yeah you just have to kind of roll with
07:37
the
07:37
[Music]
07:39
because it’s an unstable profession to
07:41
begin with like
07:42
yeah it’s gonna be unstable in any
07:46
way and i think like creative people who
07:48
are self-employed
07:50
already feel that instability or already
07:53
kind of know
07:54
how to chart those waters if they’ve
07:57
been doing it long enough
07:59
so it it becomes i mean at least for me
08:02
became pretty easy to adapt
08:04
to because i was pretty used to
08:08
feeling some moments of floundering
08:13
financially or or you know so yeah
08:16
for me at least it was kind of like
08:19
yeah no i wouldn’t say easy i if i said
08:22
easy i
08:22
don’t think that’s the word but it it
08:24
was a an experience i was kind of
08:28
equipped for because i i’ve had periods
08:31
of good
08:32
stuff happening in periods where i’m
08:33
like i’m never going to get a job again
08:36
you know kind of feeling you have
08:39
just built your career around saying yes
08:41
basically
08:42
yeah and i don’t it’s interesting
08:44
because over the past
08:47
two years i’ve been in the process of
08:50
saying no to more things and
08:51
cutting more things out of my life as
08:54
i’ve it’s become more clear to me what i
08:55
really want and then also i’ve been
08:57
getting enough work
08:58
where i’m able to say no to things like
09:01
it was really just last
09:02
year or two years ago that i quit doing
09:05
summer markets
09:07
um i basically except for the summer
09:09
maid fairs have given up vending
09:12
all together and i only do the summer
09:14
made the majors in missoula basically
09:16
just
09:17
because that’s how i started really
09:19
getting known i feel like if people came
09:22
to my booth
09:23
at market and so i still want to keep my
09:25
toes in that a bit
09:27
i’ve given up doing private kid lessons
09:30
because it just wasn’t something i
09:31
wanted to do
09:32
i feel like i’ve been in the process of
09:34
shedding a lot of those things that i
09:36
said yesterday
09:37
at the beginning of my career in favor
09:40
of things that
09:42
really made me fulfilled and
09:45
so it’s been interesting to have been
09:47
saying no to things that then would have
09:49
been pretty hard to do
09:50
anyway um it was like um
09:55
an interesting interesting timing to
09:57
have been
09:58
paring those things down um
10:02
yeah but you’re right i absolutely and
10:03
like i know a lot of
10:05
artists who wouldn’t go that route of
10:07
like just say yes but for me it just
10:10
was the right way to go about things so
10:12
i i had a really large
10:15
pool and then it made
10:18
when one part wasn’t working i could
10:21
always rely on another part to
10:23
pay my bills and so it’s always been
10:26
like
10:27
i’ve never felt too insecure because
10:29
i’ve always had something that
10:31
i could put my hand in and be able to go
10:34
okay i can make money this way
10:36
if commissions aren’t working right now
10:38
or but it’s only you know 10 years on
10:40
and i’ve
10:41
finally been like i it’s time for me to
10:43
i need to drop something or i’m never
10:45
gonna sleep
10:46
um you know so like i don’t
10:50
i don’t want to spend the next 10 years
10:52
making products
10:54
for for me like that’s not fun or joyous
10:57
or i’d rather take that energy and
11:01
try to build more clients for my
11:03
illustration work
11:05
so yeah it’s been like i’ve been in a
11:07
period of sort of
11:09
reconfiguring and growth and
11:12
it almost gave me sort of some time to
11:14
just like slow down and be quiet
11:17
and i was getting a lot of family
11:19
commissions during
11:20
this whole period and i i think because
11:23
people are home
11:24
and they’re thinking about their spaces
11:26
more
11:27
so that was really good for me or it
11:30
gave me a focus
11:32
yeah yeah and do you
11:35
draw everything on an ipad or like a
11:38
tablet or how do you how what’s your
11:39
question
11:40
not my family commissions like the
11:43
portrait commissions i do for families
11:45
are all
11:45
pen and marker on paper and then all my
11:48
illustration work
11:50
that is for like but i do a lot for big
11:52
sky brewing company and that’s all on
11:54
the ipad because they often want
11:56
corrections or
11:58
they’ll the packaging is not just the
12:00
can but it’s the bottle
12:01
it’s the bottle it’s the can it’s the
12:04
box that the
12:05
cans would come in plus the box that the
12:07
bottles would come in and
12:09
there’s a lot of different iterations of
12:12
one design
12:14
so the ipad makes it super easy to
12:17
do all those changes and then for my
12:20
personal work i
12:22
mostly do that on pieces of paper
12:27
with real materials and this summer too
12:30
i had a residency
12:31
at the historical museum and that was
12:35
six weeks so i had a studio on site
12:38
and i was able to just dive into
12:41
um historical research about missoula
12:44
and that was re that was another like
12:47
really
12:48
awesome thing to have during this period
12:53
i was going to just say when are we
12:54
going to get to see that that sounds
12:56
awesome
12:56
yeah so i am working on
13:00
it so i did this body of work that
13:03
showed at the missoula art museum
13:04
could be without a summer it was like
13:06
very very
13:08
huge drawings with lots of detail
13:11
you want to talk about a rabbit hole
13:13
head to courtneyblazon.com to see
13:16
courtney’s exhaustive process
13:18
for this project learn the history of
13:20
volcano tambora
13:22
see courtney’s early sketches for the
13:24
work and read the notes that she took
13:26
during her research and i’m doing i’m
13:29
doing something similar with this body
13:31
of work i’m
13:31
going to recreate the period of time in
13:35
missoula which was like
13:37
1890 to 1905 roughly
13:42
on west french street where that section
13:45
of town was called the badlands
13:47
and it was a really i mean it was a it
13:49
was
13:50
where all the brothels were we had a
13:51
chinatown
13:53
so i i’m going to create that i’m hoping
13:56
it probably won’t be for a year
13:58
when i do bodies of work like this i
14:00
think i spend
14:02
about half the time doing the research
14:04
getting the sketches ready
14:06
and then the second half of the time is
14:08
actually doing the work
14:10
so right now i’m still in research and
14:12
development phase but i’ve been able to
14:14
talk to
14:15
so many amazing missoulians who have so
14:18
much knowledge about
14:19
this period of time until march 2021
14:24
you can check out the historical mural
14:26
courtney is talking about
14:28
in the alley next to radius gallery
14:30
called allez
14:31
gallery for a video teaser of the mural
14:33
and a link to the allez gallery website
14:36
visit tellusomething.org
14:40
well i mean it took you a long time to
14:42
do that
14:43
piece at the zack which is beautiful
14:46
and it has like that all of that yeah
14:52
that was about that was about 300 plus
14:55
hours and it was just a lot of work and
14:59
i was i was at the time in a studio that
15:02
was
15:04
that was a lot of work and i was working
15:06
in a really really
15:08
really small space
15:11
so i could only work on four of those
15:12
panels at a time
15:14
[Music]
15:15
this is a little different just because
15:18
in the piece
15:18
for the zax i could kind of just draw
15:22
whatever i wanted
15:23
i didn’t have to try to be true to
15:26
history at all
15:28
so this one will be a little bit more i
15:30
want to honor
15:31
sort of real historical things while
15:34
still keeping my sort of
15:36
surrealistic point of view and
15:40
stuff like that but i love that i love
15:42
that i have pieces that are just like
15:44
sort of
15:46
stream of consciousness and then pieces
15:47
that are more researched and
15:50
right now my my sort of workload and my
15:52
life my work life feels really balanced
15:56
between work that yeah
15:59
like because some of my work i mean it’s
16:01
work right like doing a family portrait
16:03
is work
16:04
because you don’t want to get anything
16:06
wrong and it’s going to be something
16:08
that will be in their home
16:10
and hopefully be passed on to their
16:13
children or
16:14
so those that i take really seriously
16:16
and they feel more like work
16:18
but that mural felt like a lot of work
16:21
but also like really playful
16:23
yeah it seemed like you were having fun
16:25
with it yeah absolutely
16:27
and i just i didn’t really have to
16:31
as long as it wasn’t inappropriate for
16:33
children i really had
16:34
so much freedom i think
16:38
i’ve been really fortunate during this
16:40
period of time to
16:43
have a number of things that have kept
16:46
me afloat
16:48
i don’t suffer from lack of
16:52
creativity i think i just like
16:56
can kind of force myself to do things
16:59
even if i’m not
17:01
feeling it just because it’s like a
17:02
muscle and i’ve already well developed
17:05
go to work yeah it’s a job
17:09
it’s a job like i i don’t feel like i
17:12
have the
17:13
the freedom to not do it just do it
17:16
and that extends to my even my personal
17:20
work even when i don’t want to show up
17:21
and do something for myself like i still
17:23
just
17:24
go just do it you’ll feel better
17:27
so that’s kind of that discipline i’ve
17:30
built over the years has really
17:32
served me and the other side of it is
17:35
like
17:35
my life changed like zero percent in
17:38
terms of
17:38
how i conducted my daily life when we
17:41
were in quarantine my life remained
17:43
exactly the same because i’ve already
17:45
been working from home for a decade
17:47
so nothing changed i was still home
17:50
alone
17:52
right you know like it’s more like just
17:54
a half an hour that you’re actually on
17:56
the zoom and then the rest
17:57
that by seeing friends and stuff like
18:00
that was really
18:01
and i did some virtual you know drink
18:04
dates with friends
18:05
and that was really nice and even like
18:08
how the zac
18:08
did their mini auction online and like
18:11
it was all on
18:12
zoom and it was just you could see
18:14
everybody
18:15
in it that was so cool
18:18
yeah that was a good example of how an
18:21
online event can
18:22
have success but it fell at the right
18:25
time because people were
18:26
so like people were just like what is
18:28
going to happen
18:29
and it felt like so it was so new
18:32
the experience of being like oh we can’t
18:36
we have to stay home and so seeing all
18:38
the faces of the people
18:40
you love in the community online and
18:43
like then seeing people bidding on
18:45
things
18:46
because i think they almost made as much
18:48
as they would of
18:49
having the event which was like what a
18:53
what a great
18:56
it just makes you feel like mozilla is a
18:59
great place
18:59
in that way it is but it definitely is
19:03
yeah it
19:03
it definitely is i just also think that
19:06
experience
19:07
has kind of it it couldn’t be recreated
19:10
again because i think now we’re so used
19:12
to this
19:13
i don’t know i maybe i’m wrong but it
19:15
just seems like
19:16
we’ve kind of gotten used to what it
19:18
means to be staying within our circle
19:20
and we’re all kind of changed because
19:24
of it and both negatively and positively
19:28
yeah you’re talking about zoom meetings
19:32
and you’re only on the call for the time
19:34
that you’re on the call and that’s it
19:35
and you can go back to work
19:37
yeah that’s been my experience too and
19:39
it’s like i kind of don’t
19:40
want to have coffee meetings again
19:44
i know i’d like to just go like let’s
19:46
just do zoom
19:47
like this is great i don’t need to go
19:50
out and spend that extra time
19:55
you know like i it doesn’t it feel like
19:57
this is gonna kind of change how people
19:59
operate
20:00
i think so i mean certainly certainly
20:03
for me you know i had somebody say hey
20:05
do you want to go have a socially
20:06
distant coffee and i was like no i don’t
20:08
actually
20:09
yeah because because i’m working and
20:12
if i leave the house that means that’s
20:15
you know half an hour to get to wherever
20:17
we’re going to meet
20:18
the time that we’re meeting and then
20:20
another half an hour to 45 minutes to
20:22
get home oh wait i
20:24
i actually i can go yeah i do need to
20:27
get
20:28
a loaf of bread or you know like no
20:30
exactly
20:33
yeah let’s have a half hour meeting and
20:35
like that’s the end of it and now i’ll
20:36
go back to work
20:38
yeah i love that too it’s actually
20:40
that’s become something that
20:42
i feel like is going to be really
20:44
beneficial
20:45
for me just be like let’s just do this
20:48
online
20:49
and that’s going to be so much easier
20:51
for everybody
20:52
i think if you’re somebody who needs
20:54
people you’re going to want to do that
20:56
anyway but
20:57
i kind of like being just in my zone
20:59
when i’m in the middle of work i just
21:01
want to stay there and that
21:03
needing stuff just breaks it up too much
21:06
yeah for sure you kind of come back
21:08
feeling unfocused or you’re like
21:10
you end up running a bunch of errands
21:12
just because you’re already out
21:14
yep so yeah going back to
21:17
work and art yeah i bet you if i had
21:20
asked you you know this year to do
21:22
something you might say no because
21:23
you’re
21:24
paring that down so thank you so much
21:27
for
21:28
making no not in that way actually i was
21:32
more just talking about like
21:34
vending oh yeah it was more just like
21:37
vending and then yeah but stuff like
21:39
that i still love doing any opportunity
21:41
i
21:41
have where i’m actually just drawing i
21:44
can’t say no to that
21:46
it’s like more just like i like to draw
21:48
and any excuse to draw
21:49
it was just like the things in which i
21:51
wasn’t actually just doing the thing i
21:53
want to do
21:54
i don’t want to do the peripheral stuff
21:56
i just want to do the art
21:58
i know what i’m doing but if somebody
22:01
wanted to know
22:02
how do you become an artist i’d be like
22:03
you just work hard
22:05
there’s no secret you’re just
22:08
you work hard you’re tenacious you
22:12
you want it more than the other person
22:14
who would want it i don’t know
22:17
um you’d be nice be nice to people but
22:20
also
22:20
be honest or not that honesty and nice
22:24
mister
22:25
but i mean be transparent if you want
22:28
comp
22:28
amount of money for your work say it
22:31
make a contract i mean there’s just so
22:32
many things that like and maybe those
22:34
are
22:34
valuable things to tell people now that
22:37
i’m thinking about
22:37
like these aren’t obvious for me i
22:40
always think
22:41
be an easy person to work with but don’t
22:43
be a pushover
22:44
and that feels like the best advice that
22:47
i was given was
22:48
be tough but always be fair and
22:52
keep record keep track of every
22:54
interaction you have
22:55
just in case somebody says you didn’t
22:58
tell me that right
23:00
or whatever right maybe it’s not obvious
23:03
it feels obvious to me
23:05
but because you’ve been doing it for 10
23:07
years
23:08
right right and isn’t it funny it’s like
23:11
you can do it as many years as you want
23:13
it still feels new like oh what if i
23:16
what if i can’t do it anymore
23:19
yeah for me it was important for my life
23:22
and especially important for my work
23:24
that i had a studio at home
23:26
where i could shut the door where like
23:29
at a certain time
23:30
at the end of the day i just said i’m
23:32
not looking at that piece of work
23:33
anymore
23:34
in my little place in the basement it
23:36
was there all the time
23:38
and it was making me crazy
23:42
the mental things just be like i’m
23:44
shutting the door on that
23:46
and i’m moving on to another part of my
23:48
day
23:49
and i yeah i mean i work more than
23:52
i should but i’ve been working really
23:55
hard also just on like
23:56
i gotta sleep more i need to find
23:59
some other hobbies not really but i mean
24:03
you know yeah i also need a little
24:06
balance in my life
24:08
it’s been nice also i’ve been finding a
24:10
lot of solace and
24:12
hiking this period
24:16
of times it’s been like yeah it’s just
24:20
remembering that that’s one of the great
24:22
reasons to live
24:23
in missoula is that you could every day
24:26
of the week you could go to a different
24:28
hiking spot
24:30
has been very very very beneficial for
24:34
my brain
24:35
yep after the unexpected and refreshing
24:38
business advice workshop
24:40
we started talking about the poster that
24:42
courtney produced
24:43
for tell something so i wanted to ask
24:45
you about
24:46
the poster that you made for us yeah
24:50
did you immediately know what you were
24:53
going to draw when i asked you to do it
24:55
and you knew what the theme was or
24:58
um i actually did some research
25:02
about like where’s my i thought i would
25:05
grab
25:05
my fingers i gotta grab it to look at it
25:09
because
25:10
so it was um because i think i like
25:13
i kind of knew pretty quickly what i was
25:15
gonna do for it
25:17
and i usually settle on an idea pretty
25:21
quickly
25:23
and i don’t know if that’s just because
25:24
i’m generally like
25:26
this is the time i have allotted for
25:28
this you better snap to it
25:31
how many events have you had in posters
25:35
at the beginning i was having
25:39
an artist design like a 24 by 36
25:42
screen print and we would just use that
25:45
same just
25:47
yeah and like with the idea being we
25:49
would sell some and nobody actually
25:51
wanted to buy anything that big
25:53
so i have you know lots of those if you
25:56
want one
25:58
um but we would just like
26:02
change the color scheme each for each
26:05
event to
26:06
differentiate it from each other
26:09
right and then
26:12
i decided you know that’s not okay
26:15
uh let’s make it really special and
26:17
let’s highlight different artists in
26:19
missoula
26:20
so then i don’t know when i made that
26:22
choice but
26:23
it was like maybe the fourth year that
26:26
we were going
26:28
right and four different artists every
26:30
year and that was
26:31
pretty awesome and and so before covet
26:34
hit
26:35
i got marlowe to frame i
26:39
had him printed on nice paper
26:42
and she framed every single poster that
26:45
we’ve ever had and we were going to have
26:46
an art show the art of tell us something
26:48
[Music]
26:50
because of our 10-year anniversary right
26:53
and so
26:54
i’m counting them now one two three four
26:58
five six i don’t know there’s like
27:02
50 something like that that’s amazing
27:06
yeah and so i paid her to frame the
27:09
posters and then coveted came and i was
27:11
like well we can’t have an art show now
27:13
and so i’ve got all these
27:15
sitting in my living room oh my gosh
27:19
yeah but she did it
27:24
uh it was going to be a quiet coffee
27:27
it’ll happen at some point i hope so you
27:30
know when we’re allowed to get back
27:32
together again
27:33
yeah so i i
27:37
i kind of like because i like i have a
27:39
hard time
27:40
hooking into being excited about a
27:43
project until i can
27:44
find some intellectual
27:48
excitement in it so i tend to just look
27:51
like if the word was
27:52
chance so i just started to look up like
27:55
chance
27:56
and then like what it was historically
28:00
and then like like the roman gods of
28:03
trance
28:03
and i think like i was kind of just
28:06
that’s the way i can get kind of excited
28:08
about it if i feel like it has a back
28:10
story
28:11
i always think it’s like an actor who
28:14
who needs a backstory for their
28:15
character even if
28:18
even if nobody knows it but it gives
28:19
them uh
28:21
a way to be really excited and invested
28:24
in what they’re doing
28:26
so i kind of knew as soon as i picked
28:29
that one and i think it was because the
28:31
word
28:31
because you gave me options i think of
28:34
two or three
28:36
yeah ones yeah and i think i picked
28:39
chance
28:39
right away because i knew it would have
28:41
like i could come up with something that
28:45
had a narrative behind it yeah
28:48
and that because because until or you
28:51
know mentally that’s just what i need to
28:53
like
28:54
get myself invested so i think like
28:58
the chance like i looked up like chance
29:01
meaning and then like kind of what it
29:04
would have meant in like
29:05
the roman period or the greek period and
29:09
then like luck of the draw and
29:12
and the dice are kind of obvious but i
29:14
use little sort of ancient
29:16
looking dice and
29:20
yeah okay so for tuna is that your name
29:25
yes for tuna yeah so i kind of knew
29:28
right away
29:29
what like that it would go that route
29:32
and then i would kind of try to figure
29:34
it out in that
29:37
but i didn’t want her to be like
29:39
blindfolded or anything
29:41
because she’s both greek it was like
29:43
yeah
29:44
i had an artist i was working with for a
29:47
show
29:48
in helena the theme was didn’t see that
29:51
coming
29:52
uh-huh and she and she without me asking
29:55
her to
29:56
she provided me three proof of concept
29:59
drawings and said you know which one do
30:01
you like yeah and one of them
30:03
featured a girl in a blindfold and i was
30:05
like
30:07
you know i get it i get it and also
30:10
like think about how people will feel
30:14
when they see that and she was like oh i
30:15
never even considered
30:17
yeah right
30:20
yeah yeah thanks for not putting a
30:22
blindfold on her
30:24
yeah so the thing on her head is
30:26
supposed to be her blindfolded
30:28
blindfold pulled up as if she’s seeing
30:32
yeah i mean and that’s just something
30:33
that i did like that you know because
30:35
then i was including what would have
30:36
been in the original representation but
30:39
it was in a different format because
30:41
like i don’t think it’s a good idea to
30:42
have
30:43
a blindfolded person because you don’t
30:45
no
30:46
yeah it just doesn’t make you’re right
30:49
it doesn’t make people
30:50
feel comfortable and if that’s your aim
30:53
but for a poster it’s not
30:55
did she have other concepts though that
30:57
made
30:58
oh yeah yeah she did a great she did an
31:00
awesome job and it was fun you know it
31:02
was fun to have somebody
31:05
ask me right right i know like
31:08
that’s not always the case right some of
31:11
us don’t
31:11
necessarily sketch out concepts and then
31:14
you just go for it
31:16
yeah and i do like it because when i do
31:20
um
31:21
like for the beer labels i have to have
31:23
concept drawings
31:25
yeah and when i’m doing something like
31:28
that i guess
31:29
yes you did give me the choice and i was
31:31
like oh well i’ll just i’ll just dive in
31:33
which is cool yeah yeah it’s
31:36
but it is it’s also nice to have that
31:38
option
31:40
i think sometimes and also like what if
31:41
she had chosen the blindfolded one you
31:43
would have been like
31:44
oh yeah i would have paid her and then
31:47
like
31:47
done something else you know like right
31:50
i would have been like well here’s your
31:52
money i can’t use this
31:54
but we had an agreement and you and you
31:56
and you met your side of the agreement
31:57
and i didn’t give you clear enough
31:59
instructions
32:00
my fault you know has it been
32:02
interesting working with artists
32:04
do you find that they’re all kind of
32:06
similar
32:07
in a way and how they approach work
32:10
or they taught me a lot about about
32:13
communicating right
32:14
right the the guidelines that i gave you
32:18
once you said you wanted to do it exist
32:20
because
32:22
some artists didn’t hit any of those
32:24
points and that was like
32:26
well they didn’t because i told them to
32:28
do whatever they wanted and they did
32:31
and then they gave me a piece of work
32:33
that i couldn’t use
32:34
and it’s because right so that’s why i’m
32:37
like okay it has to have
32:39
some sort of living thing in it you know
32:42
and it has to be
32:43
easy to read and you know all that stuff
32:45
yeah
32:46
and some you know some artists gave me
32:48
like a really beautiful piece of art but
32:49
it doesn’t have
32:51
the information that is necessary to
32:53
promote an event on it you know yeah
32:56
yeah and i think so like really good
32:58
that you provide
33:00
provide those now because i think
33:02
artists even if they think they don’t
33:04
want them they for this case they need
33:07
to have
33:08
some guidelines for sure
33:12
yeah and i i mean yeah i made
33:15
assumptions right
33:16
oh i’m hiring courtney blaizon she knows
33:19
how to do this stuff
33:21
and then courtney blazon gives me a
33:22
piece of work that it’s like beautiful
33:24
but the lettering is such that i can’t
33:27
read it you know like i’m
33:29
using you just so that i’m not pointing
33:31
out you know anybody else but
33:33
and i’m not saying that you did that you
33:35
definitely didn’t you gave me
33:38
a beautiful poster that it was easy to
33:40
read and we sold out the wilma
33:42
you know oh good i thought it looked so
33:45
good when i saw it like around the
33:48
around the town you know when it’s
33:50
because you just suck some up
33:52
right oh yeah they were everywhere yeah
33:55
yeah it was just exciting to see it i
33:57
was like that was
33:58
good yeah it does it looks great
34:02
and it was fun too like even from the
34:04
street you could tell what it was
34:06
if you were just riding your bike down
34:08
the road you might not be able to read
34:10
it because you were going fast but
34:13
yeah it was it was a great position yeah
34:16
it’s funny i i’m always telling stories
34:19
to people and they’re always like
34:20
particularly i have like a pretty
34:22
interesting life with my dad
34:24
and people are always saying you should
34:26
try to do something for tell us
34:28
something
34:29
and i feel like that would make me want
34:30
to vomit just the thought of
34:32
standing up in front of a crowd i mean i
34:36
know i could do it probably and
34:39
because i’m kind of also a cam
34:43
you know like i i like to chat
34:46
but i’m sure i could but do people want
34:49
to vomit
34:50
it’s kind of scary so
34:54
telling a story is scary and
34:58
also really fun and if you can take that
35:01
nervous
35:02
energy and turn it into you know it’s
35:03
energy so you can manipulate it to your
35:05
will
35:06
yeah and so take that nervous energy and
35:09
turn it into an
35:10
enthusiasm or excitement or whatever
35:13
you need to get through the story but by
35:16
the time you hit that stage
35:18
you’ve practiced your story enough and
35:19
you’ve gotten enough feedback from
35:22
not just other storytellers but me you
35:24
know i’m like that’s part of my job is
35:26
to
35:27
help you crash because you don’t go up
35:28
there and tell a story you like practice
35:31
and you
35:31
you people tell you what is working and
35:34
what isn’t working
35:35
and stuff like that yeah i mean in the
35:38
early days
35:39
it was just get up there and do it and
35:42
thankfully
35:43
people did great at that but as things
35:46
started progressing
35:47
i realized that i need to also step up
35:50
my game and
35:51
help them craft their story somebody
35:54
might tell me a story and it’s like
35:55
three minutes long and it’s like that’s
35:57
not your full story let’s think about
35:59
this and
36:00
and then by the time they get on the
36:02
stage it’s a beautiful piece of art you
36:03
know
36:04
wow yeah that’s amazing yeah that’s a
36:08
gift that you’re giving the community
36:10
to and hopefully like you feel
36:13
appreciated by
36:15
the you know the community i
36:18
feel really lucky really like that like
36:21
i i’m always cutting a deadline right to
36:23
the end
36:24
myself it gives you a
36:28
fire under your butt but it’s like it’s
36:31
just like a mental exercise of
36:33
i don’t care if anybody listens this is
36:36
what i do yeah yeah
36:39
i mean because i’m the same way like
36:41
i’ll force myself to finish a piece of
36:43
work that’s for me but i’m like
36:45
literally nobody but me cares
36:48
but it’s important for my mental
36:51
well-being to just stay
36:53
somewhere in that realm of
36:56
holding myself accountable i’m sure for
36:58
some people it’s other things like
37:01
exercise and sleep and what you’re
37:03
eating
37:04
for some of it’s related to like i just
37:06
need to do this to stay
37:09
accountable to myself and
37:12
like i like to dress up every day
37:13
whether i’m leaving home or not
37:15
and it’s just my way of saying like okay
37:17
you’re working now
37:19
and yeah yeah stuff like that
37:23
i don’t know i like i like the act of
37:25
changing out
37:26
of my sleeping clothes into something
37:28
that is
37:29
about being present and
37:33
focused and yeah
37:36
yeah well courtney thank you for talking
37:39
with me today i’m speaking of work
37:41
i like i do have to go to work okay well
37:44
have a good day mark and thanks for
37:47
chatting with me
37:48
thank you courtney you have an awesome
37:50
day as well and uh maybe i’ll see you
37:52
around in the neighborhood
37:53
sounds good bye all right bye