“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
Yesterday morning I joined Madeline and Sean on another of our road-trips in Madeline’s orange Element, caravanning with Maura, Tina, and Mindy to Indianapolis to attend Amanda Palmer’s house party at The Strange Brew Coffee House. (If you’re unfamiliar with Amanda’s house parties, you can read her recent post about them on her blog.)
I hadn’t seen Madeline or Sean since my trip to Europe, and so we caught up and time passed quickly. Upon arriving in Indy, we stopped first for a visit with Joan of Dark and Dill at their home, where they fed us and introduced us to their menagerie of adorable dogs, cats, and Widget the bird.
The ever-inspiring Fabulous Lorraine was there and while she went for a 2-mile skate on the neighborhood streets, we met the charming Allie. (Lorraine and Allie had driven in from Wisconsin for the house party). I was happy for a little time to sit on Joan’s couch with cuddly dogs and good coffee. I only wish they lived closer. I’d love to have more such mornings. We parted ways to check into our hotel and would reconnect at the coffee house a few hours later.
After lunch and a quick change, we got to Strange Brew and settled in, watching the rest of the attendees arrive with potluck offerings and anticipation for the evening.
Amanda arrived with surprise guest, Neil (who had surprised Amanda at the airport), and after snacking and saying hello to friends, Amanda sat down to talk with the audience.
House parties are not formulaic. From what I have read online and in blogs, each one has its own distinct energy: some loud and energetic, others quiet and intimate. I’ve written before about the idea of creating a container, a time and space, for special things to happen. Well, this was a container made by a lot of people: Joan, Neil, Amanda, Allison, Allie, Kristine, and more. The thing is, when you create a container, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. So much is dictated by what fills it, in this case: the venue, the audience, and by Amanda’s mood and energy at the time.
The Indy house party reminded me a little of those times in college when I would go with a group of friends to the local coffeehouse to hear a friend play or do a reading. Back then, there may have only been a few small groups of people at the cafe, and I wouldn’t know everyone, but I knew we were all there to support the performer(s). This vibe was similar–mellow and anticipatory. A few people played as a warm-up, while the rest of us mingled, listened, and watched. Some songs struck chords, with people, and I saw a some tears, many rapt listeners, and so many smiles.
I had brought face pencils and decorated a few friends’ faces with stars (in honor of the Perseid Meteor showers). Amanda borrowed the pencils and went around the room talking with people about their fears and then writing/drawing those fears on their faces. For the rest of the evening, people went around the room wearing their fears on their cheeks. At one point, Amanda drew a “pencil mustache” on Neil (I think it looked surprisingly dapper):
At some point Neil shed the mustache, and then the couple drew on each other’s fears.
I was so happy to be at a coffee shop, because in addition to some wine and spirits, I could enjoy Joan’s amazing coffee (if you’re sad you didn’t get to have any, you can order from the Strange Brew on their website, Cafe Yarns.) I also got the chance to sample the “Neil Gaiman” specialty coffee drink. Back in 2009 (I can’t believe it’s been four years!), there was a discussion on the internet about what a Neil coffee would taste like. Joan came up with her concoction (it has Neil’s honey!) and continues to donate the proceeds to the CBLDF. You can read Joan’s blog entry about it from 2009.
While our little group was gathered around talking with Amanda about the Amanda Palmer Tarot Kickstarter, Neil brought a large mug of the “Neil Gaiman” over to Amanda for her to sample. She did, then shared the mug with us.
Contrary to what my face suggests in the photo above, the Neil Gaiman was sweet and delicious.
I would expect nothing less from Joan. She and Dill have really built a wonderful place and community in the Strange View. Many people dream of owning a coffee shop, and some people even try, but they have successfully run one for 9 years. That is an amazing thing in this Starbucks Age.
Plus Joan and Dill roast their own coffee, she’s a Roller Derby Goddess, she’s written two knitting books, Knockdown Knits:30 Projects from the Roller Derby Track and Knits for Nerds), and she recently started doing silks! Joan’s a wonder and one of the most genuine and amazing people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. (You can read her account of the house party and her other adventures on her blog, and if you’re driving through Greenwood, Indiana, you should definitely stop in to The Strange Brew Coffee House for a pound of “Jamaica Me Crazy” and a “Neil Gaiman” to go.)
After time spent with the folks in attendance, Amanda performed, then was joined by Neil on a couple of songs. Neil read some short stories (always a treat to listen to him read aloud). One of my favorite moments was listened in the dark as he read his scary story, “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” accompanied by Lorraine on violin and Amanda on keyboard:
The evening closed with photo booth portraits on the couch, where folks could pose with Neil and Amanda. (You can see the portraits and candids by photographer Marc Lebryk on his Flickr page.)
Neil signed some books, there were many hugs, then Amanda and Neil bid their farewells. It was a wonderful night.
After breakfast the next morning, we headed back home to Chicago, and Maura and Tina headed back to Wisconsin/Minnesota.
I picked the Henry Miller quote because the journey is often as important as the destination. It may sound cliché, but it’s true. I fully admit to my wanderlust–that feeling of being called to explore new worlds and adventures, from German forests to Spanish Hills to Indiana suburbs.
Each trip we take introduces us to new people and adventures. There’s something else, however. Travel also reminds us to appreciate the places we leave behind, and sometimes coming home is just as sweet as the journey away.