Coffee and Adventures: The Indy AFP House Party

“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.

Willie! (Photo by Dill Hero)

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.

Waiting for Amanda to arrive (photo by me).

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.

Settling in, Amanda and Neil at Strange Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Loved this photo of Amanda and Neil settling in at the Strange Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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.

Neil, Amanda, and Lorraine share a sweet moment. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Neil, Amanda, and Lorraine share a sweet moment. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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.

From a distance, the audience at Strange Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Listening to Allie perform an amazing version of Time After Time, Amanda and everyone else at Strange Brew.
(Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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):

Neil autographs the giant Strange Brew mug, while a charismatic Dill looks on.
Neil autographs the giant Strange Brew mug, while a charismatic Dill looks on. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

At some point Neil shed the mustache, and then the couple drew on each other’s fears.

Neil writes Amanda's fear on her cheek. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Neil writes Amanda’s fear on her cheek. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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.

Amanda talks with Madeline C. Matz about the Amanda Palmer Tarot Kickstarter project.
Amanda talks with Madeline C. Matz about the Amanda Palmer Tarot Kickstarter project. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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.

Of course I have a knack for getting caught making funny faces. Here I'm about to sample the "Neil Gaiman" latte. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Of course I have a knack for getting caught making funny faces. Here I’m about to sample the “Neil Gaiman” latte. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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.)

Amanda on ukelele at The Strange Brew coffee house in Indiana.
Amanda on ukelele at The Strange Brew coffee house in Indiana. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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:

Neil reads his scary story, joined by Lorraine and Amanda.
Neil reads his scary story, joined by Lorraine and Amanda.(Photo by Marc Lebryk)

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.)

Amanda decorates Kristine Scalzi's face, after Neil autographed WHO KILLED AMANDA PALMER.(Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Amanda decorates Kristine Scalzi’s face, after Neil autographed WHO KILLED AMANDA PALMER.(Photo by Marc Lebryk)

Neil signed some books, there were many hugs, then Amanda and Neil bid their farewells. It was a wonderful night.

Me and Neil, Strage Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Me and Neil, Strage Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

After breakfast the next morning, we headed back home to Chicago, and Maura and Tina headed back to Wisconsin/Minnesota.

Breakfast with friends (photo by nice Denny's manager)
Breakfast with Mindy Perry, Tina Needles Melvin, me,
Sean Swaggerty, Maura Henn, and Madeline C. Matz (left to right).
(Photo by nice Denny’s manager)

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.

In the Cards: The Amanda Palmer Tarot

For hundreds of years, the Tarot has been used as a system of divination, reflection, storytelling, and inspiration. There are decks inspired by gods and goddesses, decks of cats, decks inspired by fictional worlds like Harry Potter or Star Wars, fairy tale decks and complex metaphysical ones. People are drawn to certain decks because they identify with the imagery or connect with the artwork or theme.

It comes as no surprise that fans of singer Amanda Palmer decided to draw upon the iconography of Amanda’s work, both as a solo artist and member of the Dresden Dolls, to create a Tarot deck.

For those unfamiliar with her work, Amanda’s songs, while fiercely intimate, are also iconic. She sings about abuse, addiction, abortion, heartache, love, abandon, regret, and hope; and her songs give voice to the dreams and fears of fans around the world. That would be enough to endear Amanda to her fans, but she takes it further to connect with them on a personal level at shows, ninja gigs, and online. Amanda opens herself up, and people often walk away saying that the experiences were intimate, inspirational, and transformative.

That is what the Amanda Palmer Tarot is about: Intimacy. Inspiration. Transformation.


When Madeline C. Matz, told me she was going to take the collaborative deck to Kickstarter, to use the crowd funding tool for preorder and distribution of the tarot deck and to pay the 78 artists involved, it made perfect sense. Collaboration brought the deck into existence; collaboration would get it produced.

***UPDATE: The Tarot was fully funded within 24-hours of launching the Kickstarter Campaign, but you can still order a deck until September 3, 2013!***

At its heart, the Amanda Palmer Tarot is a one-of-kind creative collaboration, a tribute deck featuring the work of 78 different artists, including Molly Crabapple, Kyle Cassidy, Walter Sickert, Kristina Carroll, Zelda Devon, Katelan V. Foisy, and more. Even fans unfamiliar with Tarot as a system of divination can enjoy the beauty of the unique cards inspired by all-things-Amanda.

Tarot is like a mosaic or patchwork of our lives at any given moment. People look at the cards to gain insight, to glean something new, to be challenged, to connect with a larger picture. (Interesting that those are some of the same reasons we encounter art.)

It will be interesting to find out what Tarot readers will think of the Amanda Palmer Tarot, because of course, the cards are sexy, symbolic, and provocative.

But then again, Art should provoke, and Tarot should provoke. Any deck inspired by Amanda would have to be provocative, and I think that translates into a beautiful and powerful collection of cards.

You can read more about the kickstarter campaign and order your deck here.

There are also Facebook and tumblr pages highlighting the artwork, and a twitter account: @afptarot

Check it out and spread the word.

Aren’t you curious to find out what you’ll see in the cards?

Creative Vulnerability

I have a lot of questions.

As a child, I was one of those dreamy-eyes kids who tirelessly asked questions, then devoured books looking for answers. I loved college and grad school because they offered some answers and raised new questions, and they also provided me with a context and community to discuss and argue and dream.

Questions inspire me to write.

With The Silence of Trees, I wondered about the nature of evil. I wanted to know what made people react so differently to a horrible experience like war. There were other things too: questions about identity, roots, sacrifice, love.

There’s a word in Ukrainian, one of my favorite words: rozdoomlyna. It translates roughly to “lost in thought,” but it always feels heavier and more substantial than that, as if the thoughts themselves are concrete and engulfing like fog.

For the past week, I’ve been rozdoomlyna–mulling something over, rolling it around: the idea of creative vulnerability.

The words came out of a conversation last week at the Everleigh Club. This year I was asked to be one of the Artists in Residence at the Club. I had been one of the finalists for their Naked Girls Reading Literary Prize, and when Everleigh Club founders Franky Vivid and Michelle L’amour invited me to participate in the program, I was flattered and intrigued. We had our second meeting last week, and Franky gave a talk about the vulnerability of the artist. Ever since that lively discussion, two questions have been on my mind: What is creative vulnerability? Am I vulnerable as an artist?

My initial thought on the subject was that an artist who is vulnerable somehow gives his or her audience permission to connect. But how?

I think it’s easier to assess the vulnerability of artists who participate in the delivery of their work: the singer, actor, dancer, musician. They are present in their art, but what about the painter, whose subjects may or may not reflect a part of him or herself. What of the photographer, whose photographs may capture someone else’s vulnerability? Does that also translate into his vulnerability as an artist? What about the vulnerability of the writer?

If writing nonfiction, particularly in the first person point of view, it may be more obvious. But what about Shakespeare? Rilke? Whitman? Tolkein? How do we assess their vulnerability?

The poet seems to project an assumed vulnerability. So too the self-portrait of the painter. Is it only in the self-portrait that we can assess true creative vulnerability?

Neil Gaiman recently released a photograph taken of him with his wife, Amanda Palmer, naked in bed. (You can see the photo here.)

The photo was part of a series by Kyle Cassidy created to accompany Amanda’s song, “The Bed Song” that will only be available via her kickstarter project.

The song and the photograph seem to be wrapped up in this idea of creative vulnerability, as is Neil’s blog entry about the experience, but I wonder which one of the three is the best example?

I realize that I haven’t really come up with a definition of creative vulnerability, and I come back to questions.

Questions seem to be an important part of vulnerability.

We live in a society that does not value vulnerability. It’s often misunderstood as weakness. In school, kids were afraid to ask questions because they thought it made them look foolish somehow.  As an instructor, I knew the opposite was true. However, questions do reveal something about the person who is doing the asking. They reveal an admission to not knowing something. They reveal openness, vulnerability.

Questions are also an invitation to an exchange: of ideas, knowledge, perception, etc.

Questions reflect/suggest intimacy. You don’t usually ask questions if you don’t care about something (Apathy is the opposite of being engaged).

So I suppose that creative vulnerability is Art that invites us to connect with the piece and the artist.

An artist who is vulnerable makes us question: ourselves, our world, our fears, our relationships, our politics, our inhibitions, our assumptions. As artists , we can be creatively vulnerable by asking those questions of ourselves, attempting to answer them in our art in a way that provokes our audience to do the same.

So can I do it? Can I be more vulnerable in my work?

Can you?