Amanda Edmonds

Amanda Edmonds
"get dirty"
Director, Growing Hope
swing dancer, photographer
Ypsilanti, Michigan

Tottered on: 5 July 2007
Temperature: 73 F
Ceiling: breaking clouds
Ground: post T-storm drenched
Wind: NNW at 12 mph

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TT with HD: Amanda Edmonds

[Ed. note: A collection of links with background that will aid comprehension: Growing Hope | Amanda's Flickr site | Amanda's regular website | Roosroast | Shadow Art Fair | Mark Maynard | Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor Lindy Exchange ]

HD: Okay, I'm going to put you on that end--because I no longer give people a choice. No one really seemed to appreciate that they were getting a choice, they didn't attach any value-add to that. And, let's see, is this going to work? Because I'm going to outweigh you by a lot.

AE: I'm really little.

HD: Let me scoot forward a bit. This should work. But let's pause for the moment. [Ed. note: HD retrieves his camera from his pocket.]

AE: So, smile? Or what's proper teeter posture etiquette?

HD: [laugh] As you like. However you are is how it's going to get posted. You can put your feet up on the teeter totter if you like, joining a select group of people who've shown that level of trust in me. [Ed. note: photography ensues.] Alright, let's get this thing going again.

AE: Are you going to tell me your background first?

HD: My background?

AE: Or do you not tell that during totters?

HD: [laugh] No, sure. It's kind of a general way to approach it, though, I could talk for an hour and a half given that prompt ...

AE: ... give me the three-minute version.

HD: The three-minute version. I moved to Ann Arbor ...

AE: ... so you're totally having to run this [teeter totter], because I'm sort of like, Hi, ground! [not reaching my feet to the ground]. As long as you're fine with it!

HD: This is working fine for me.

AE: Okay.

HD: See the important thing is that you're letting the teeter totter go to its maximum low point, which allows me to get good leg extension, which is fine. Anyway, let's see, I moved to Ann Arbor around ten years ago along with my wife so that she could follow a career opportunity. And I've been figuring out what to do with myself for the last ten years. This [teeter tottering] is the most interesting thing I've come up with so far. And it's what I'm enjoying the most so far.

AE: And why Homeless Dave? I always wondered that.

HD: I was mistaken for a homeless person by someone who did not know me. And I figured I would just embrace that as a nickname as opposed to worrying that, My god, I need to change something so that people don't mistake me for a homeless person!

AE: Huh. So do you have a professional vocation that you've had in the past?

HD: Well, I went to grad school for linguistics, so that's what I was all set up and trained to do, to have an academic career in linguistics. I guess the easy explanation for why that never panned out is that I moved to Ann Arbor, so I couldn't finish. The harder ...

AE: ... you're an ABD?

HD: Yeah. I actually wrote a dissertation that I could not get all the committee members to actually read, so that gives you an idea of what my standing in the department was at the time. But anyway, welcome to the teeter totter.

AE: Thanks! I hope I don't get teeter sick! We can pause, right, if I'm getting woozy?

HD: Absolutely. Are you actually tending in that direction, or are you just kidding around?

AE: No, I'm fine, but I might get teeter sick after a while. I don't usually swing for a long period of time.

HD: Now when you say, 'swing', do you mean like swing dancing?

AE: No, no, like swing on a swing. You know, another thing that's a repetitive motion like that. I haven't teeter tottered in a long time. I'm fine, don't worry, I'm not going to barf!

HD: [laugh] Well, you know, Ed Shaffran, when he was here, we climbed aboard and then he declared that we were not going to actually move up and down, because he had motion sickness. And I thought, Well, Okay! You know, given a choice between having you puke on the teeter totter and not, I'll opt for not.

AE: If we need to pause later for a moment of stillness, whatever works. [Ed. note: a reference follows to some backyard landscaping] Nice planted toilet. Not much really growing in it though, huh?

HD: No, this year it didn't really receive very much attention. So did you have a good 4th of July?

AE: Ahhh, yeah, it was quite lovely. You know, Ypsi has a really good parade, for a hometown. I always cry at parades.

HD: Really?? Like the whole way through??

AE: Well, I'm teared up a lot of the way through. Parades always, anywhere--well, hometown parades. Yeah, like I was teared up when the Ann Arbor News people were going by, which was a bunch of people in blue Ann Arbor News shirts and a bunch of news carriers. Tearing up. I'm really sentimental. Well, not sentimental, I'm not harkening to some past memory. Yeah, I cry at parades.

HD: So is there one particular entry that you would single out as worthy of special mention?

AE: Well, I put probably about 50 pictures up on my Flickr site of it. You can see that and contrast it with the Memorial Day parade. There were a lot of church entries, especially some of the black churches in Ypsi. But there were three floats that were full-on gospel bands, like church bands jamming on a big thing with amps and many different instruments, and keyboards, and trumpets, and bass, and people singing or whatever. That's an only-in-Ypsi kind of thing. [Ed. note: AE's phone rings]

HD: You can get that if you want. We've had people answer the phone on the teeter totter before.

AE: If it's the inspector, I need to answer it.

HD: Go ahead and get it!

AE: One second, I'm sorry! Hello this is Amanda! ... John Roos! Hey, I'm in the middle of teeter tottering. Can I give you a holler? I have a check that was going in the mail to you tomorrow ...

HD: ... Ask him if he'll bring us by some coffee.

AE: ... Oh, maybe I will go ahead and pay you on PayPal ... Yeah. I'm not writing this down ... At Homeless Dave's ... Yeah, I'm teeter tottering, but I thought you might be the inspector, because the inspections are due next week on the property, so ... That's excellent. Okay, I'll do that tomorrow ... Okay, I will. Bye. He says, Hi! Ringer off--well, I'm going to put it on beep, just in case, so and I'll tell you about this ...

HD: ... these are the inspections on the new Growing Hope Center?

AE: Yeah, next Wednesday is the contingency removal date, for all the inspections and appraisals, and I don't have any of them lined up yet. So I'm waiting to hear back from inspectors and appraisers and people like that.

HD: So if this all goes according to plan, when will you close and take ownership?

AE: December. But we're going to do what the federal government considers to be an environmental review, so it's like a Phase One, Phase Two environmental assessment--I don't know if you're familiar with that process?

HD: No.

AE: So it's more than like an inspector comes and says, Yeah, the rafters look good. It's a whole analysis of contaminants and lead, and the State Historic Preservation Society and the DNR have to clear that there's not like clearing valuable this or that and mineral rights. I think it's pretty extensive. So we're doing that environmental review. Phase One and Phase Two are a standard thing for a commercial property, to make sure there's not some major contamination, but the federal environmental review is something that you have to do if you're going to be eligible for federal money.

HD: And you want to be.

AE: And we want to be. So it's a little tricky. In learning this process, every federal agency has a different definition and requirements of what 'federal review' means. And sub-agencies within the federal government have different requirements, and there's no one person you can call and say, What are your requirements? You talk to the head of a grant program and they don't even know. But we were told right before we finished the purchase agreement, final signatures, Oh, yeah, you have to have certain language in your purchase agreement or else your contract is considered not--maybe 'null' was the word they used?

HD: Not binding, or?

AE: Well, basically, if you don't have this language in your original purchase agreement, then you can't be eligible for those federal funds. But no one knew what that language was, so I spent weeks trying to call federal agencies and other non-profits who use federal funds. Avalon Housing, their environmental review--required by HUD, which is the federal money they're always using--is stuff about noise and traffic and people-related things. And for someone else, like an agricultural agency, it may be about soil stuff and different things. So I'm trying to figure my way through this process. We put some language in that we think sounds good and will cover our butts, but we don't know what federal monies we're applying for yet, or what agencies, so we tried to figure out, What blanket process can we do?

HD: So it's not that you suspect that there's any sort of environmental problem with the property, it's simply that you want to have the bureaucratic ducks in a row so that in the future ... ?

AE: No, I think the property is pretty okay.

HD: Yeah, the photograph I saw online looked like a regular normal residential house, right?

AE: Mmm hmm, on an acre and a half! On Michigan Avenue.

HD: So is it fair to say that you guys are going to have rain barrels configured on the downspouts of this house?

AE: Yeah. Here's the whole overall vision of it. We want to do a green renovation of the house, put in geothermal, the whole nine yards. Because the house is structurally pretty good--we've been through there with some contractors--but it has its original 1931 roof, its original electric, so it needs a fairly decent gutting. We want to do as much as we can afford. And we can better afford green for the long run, but there's the cash up-front. So do green renovation and have that as our offices. And then we're going to build another building as an education center ...

HD: ... so on the same property.

AE: On the same property. Where the garage is--I keep slipping! It's fine. I need traction on my butt!--something really simple, green, a multipurpose education center. We just need a big multipurpose room, because that's something we severely lack. It's really lacking in the community overall. We have our Ypsi Senior Center and that's it. And only so many people can use that. We have things all year round, people are like, Oh, I've got 30 volunteers, we can come do something! And we're like, We don't have anywhere for you to come do something in the non-growing season, or indoor things for events for ...

HD: ... so where do you guys hold your rain barrel builds? Just wherever?

AE: Wherever.

HD: So this one that's coming up next week?

AE: I don't know where that one is.

HD: It's next Thursday, the 12th of July [2007], I think.

AE: Oh yeah. We're still figuring that out, actually.

HD: Okay, so stay tuned. How's your inventory of actual barrels these days?

AE: Really hard. Because there's a super run on rain barrels in this town. Rain barrels have been the theme of the season, I think, especially in Ann Arbor, people are now getting tax credits for them?

HD: Yeah.

AE: So we have a secret source.

HD: Do you really?

AE: But we can't tell you. And we're just cultivating the relationship, and they made up promise not to tell anyone else.

HD: Well, it seems to me like you wouldn't want to tell anyone else!

AE: We've only gotten one set of five from them so far, so we're hoping it keeps going. But yeah, we used to get them always from the Water Treatment Plant, but they only get rid of actually one to two a week, and given the run on them lately ... ! The ReUse Center used to stock up on them for us, but now they're a hot commodity. We have all this demand. We have a list of like 20 people who want them. Which is really good income for us, as well as mission related etcetera. But we can't get them fast enough.

HD: The City of Ann Arbor online storm water interface was launched--today I think--where you go online, you type in your address, and up comes an aerial photograph showing where they have analyzed your property to have impervious surface, which is what determines your storm water rate now. And you get a discount for a rain barrel. It used to be a flat rate.

AE: I didn't realize they're totally changing it. That's what Portland does.

HD: I mean it's not like it's a mathematical function--well, I guess it is a function--but it's a step function, there's tiers. It's not like if you can reduce your square footage of impervious area by three square feet that your rate's going to go down accordingly by that much. You have to reduce it enough to get into the next lower tier. And there's only four tiers, so it's not terribly complex.

AE: Still that's a big move, that's a real progressive thing. Portland's the only place I've heard of doing it. That's how Big George's, right, was able to negotiate with the City planners with their green-roof building, not having as much stormwater retention? So it's exciting, especially given the total lack of rain this season!

HD: Well, we had our weekly quota, I think, two hours ago. It all fell at once.

AE: In about ten minutes! So the vision of the property for the Growing Hope Center is that we'll build a really simple education building. We thought about a green roof, but at our last planning meeting, we decided actually probably a green roof, we could do better, and as an educational purpose, on some other out-building--do a cob or adobe tool shed or do something lower so that you could actually see it and learn from that. Because what was more valuable for us from the property would probably be to do steel, and really have a cistern, and be able to really collect water from it. Probably a more valuable use of resource--rather than depleting runoff and growing things on a roof--is collecting water to use. So then the rest of the acre and a half will be ...

HD: ... gardens?

AE: Greenhouses and gardens! Demonstration and training. So we're dreaming and planning. This is right on Michigan Avenue! So it's as visible as you can get. It's next to public housing. It's between public housing and a liquor store.

HD: [??]

AE: It's 922 and it's at Michigan Avenue and First.

HD: Okay, and what's across the street from it?

AE: A non-descript gas station that's now just a party store. It's adjacent to Paradise Manor, it's on the north side of the street. Paradise Manor's the public housing that had the fire. The next street that comes off of Michigan Avenue--so it's here, downtown is here--is Summit, the next street that goes into Normal Park. So it backs up to the Woods Road neighborhood, and then Normal Park. Paradise Manor is here, and then downtown. So about four blocks that way. So if you're downtown where Michigan Avenue and Congress split--do you know Ypsi at all?

HD: I'm vaguely familiar with it, yeah.

AE: Where the fried chicken slash Chinese food place is?

HD: Yeah, yeah.

AE: You can actually see the light at the top of the hill which is the light at First, which is where it is. Right now we're negotiating with MDOT for where the curb cuts are going to be, because it's at a light. That will affect our whole site plan, because that will affect traffic flow and where the parking is then. So hopefully, we're going to hear from MDOT soon ...

HD: ... so have you met any of the immediate neighbors, the people who have property right next to ...

AE: ... there aren't residential neighbors, really. I mean, there's Paradise Manor. And we do know some people in Paradise Manor. But the building nearest is the one that burned down. So it's tragically still like a half-burned-down building. You know, where three little kids died. And it was awful and it's still sitting there, and that was what, March?

HD: It seems like an awfully long time ago now.

AE: Since January anyway. Part of Paradise Manor is like a little almost park and playground area, and that's what is directly adjacent. On the other side are a couple of very small rental units with pit bulls. And then there's the party store that has had some shooting problems.

HD: So are you going to have to get support from neighbors for the curb cuts you would like to do, or the building that you would like to do?

AE: No, it's zoned appropriately for us. It's zoned community business. So it's not zoned residentially. From our meetings with the Planning Department, we're pretty confident--and we have good relationships with most of the people in the City, and with Council, and with Planning, and those other offices as well--that our use can be appropriately interpreted under community business, the B-2 Zoning. So the site plan approval process goes through a board, it's actually a one-step approval. Ann Arbor has a two-step site plan approval. So it's actually not too, too hard, so ...

HD: ... what are our [Ann Arbor's] two steps, do you know?

AE: No. But our planning team was like, Yeah, you have to do something and then you have to go back. You always have to do a couple of different steps. I'm not so familiar with it, I've never gone through the process. But in Ypsi, it's only one step and then 30 days. You submit it 30 days before it goes before the Planning Commission--and they may ask you to do revisions or change things. So it's not a too huge of a process. We think we're okay, so as long we learn from MDOT, we just don't know what they'll say. These aren't my areas of expertise, but I'm learning. Sometimes they'll say, You can't have a driveway closer than 35 feet to the next driveway. Or there's things like that. So we just have to know, are they going have restrictions like that or not.

HD: So is there any one particular individual, or perhaps a collection of individuals that you can call on for their expertise in navigating these systems? Or do you just call up MDOT and say, Hi, I'm Amanda from Growing Hope and I want to do X, Y, Z, please help.

AE: Well, I would do that, but the best part about this whole thing is what we did when we started. This property I identified a year ago. And I identified it, because Roy--who's our youth intern, who's fifteen, who's been a program participant and then we hired him in last summer--his family rented the house for a little while. It's been owned by the same family for 50 years, but the elderly mother passed away a number of years ago, and it's been just sort of rented as they've been trying to sell it off-and-on. So his family lived there, and I remember being there and saying, Roy, you guys have a park! I mean, there's raspberries and pear trees and mulberries and apples, it's like an acre and a half and it's right there. Probably the biggest lot like that in the city, a lot that's really parkland almost, that's a private lot. Especially on Michigan Avenue.

And so their family had moved out and I passed it again last summer, and I was like, Oh yeah, huh, now it's for sale, huh. And our strategic plan says we're looking for property to develop a permanent home, huh. And so it kind of all clicked. I know the real estate agent personally and called and took a look, and went from there. So in the fall, I held a series of community input sessions, because it's a decision beyond me and my board and the organization. It's a decision of the community. Is the community ready for this? Will they support it? And will funders support it? So I held four sessions and had lots of community folks, the mayor, city government people, council people, funders, foundation people. I just made lots of invites and people came and gave feeback. I said, Here's the vision, here's the broad scope, what do you think? And we got lots of great advice.

A lot of people said--people who I wouldn't have expected to say it--said, It really feels like the right place and the right time. Given the work that Growing Hope has been doing, given the work on healthy food access that's been going on in Ypsi, etcetera, etcetera, this just feels right. And it felt right to me, too. So what came out of that was a bunch of folks really interested being on our planning team. So we have a pro bono project manager and she's awesome. She's running the show.

HD: Who is that?

AE: Her name's Nicole Chardoul. She's a licensed mechanical engineer and she works for Resource Recycling Systems. They're a consulting firm that does, often municipal, but also other recycling composting systems. Like they're designing the new /merf/.

HD: The new Murph??

AE: Materials Recovery Facility [MRF] in Ann Arbor, the big recycling center where they store all their stuff.

HD: [laugh] Oh. Okay. Alright.

AE: Environmental acronym! So she's being our project manager and engineer. We have a couple of other people from her office--she's gotten support from her firm to be doing this, and offering in-kind real professional support. And we have a couple of different landscape architects, including Bob Doyle from JJR [Johnson, Johnson and Roy, Inc] who's an active Ypsi resident and landscape architect and project manager. And then we have a pro bono project architect, who happens to be my father!

HD: Wow.

AE: Who's in Missouri--St. Louis. But is retired and is getting his Michigan license. And a long-time experienced architect. So we might have another architect around here sign off on plans, but he's being a part of the planning team, being in on conference calls. And a couple of landscape architecture students, because we had the whole first year master's of landscape architecture studio last year do conceptual site plans, last year ...

HD: ... this is EMU?

AE: U of M. Because Bob Grese, who's director of the Arb and Matthaei and a landscape architecture professor, came to me and said, Hey, here's how we could help! Why don't I have my first-year design studio do designs? So I said, Okay, great! So we had like 18 different conceptual designs, which were all over the map, and we pulled in a couple of those folks, who are now on our team. And we've been working with some of the green building folks around, architects who are sort of experts in green building, and various folks like that. So we have a really, really, really good planning team.

HD: What could possibly go wrong?

AE: Now we have to raise a lot of money. A significant amount of money.

HD: So how many rain barrels do you have to sell?

AE: Ahh, I don't know, a thousand? No, more like--we're going to need to raise probably near a million dollars in next few years, which is huge given our little 100-150 thousand dollar budget, and the struggle we have as a relatively young non-profit with limited capacity, in raising that every day.

HD: So relatively young. You founded it in 2003, is that right? So you're coming up on your 5th year anniversary.

AE: We founded in 2003, May 23rd, so we just had our four-year anniversary.

HD: Did you commemorate that in any special way?

AE: No, we actually had a board meeting that night, and I forgot to even tell people. And the next day, I was like, Oh, last night was Growing Hope's birthday and I didn't tell anyone! We got our 501C3 in January of '04, so we've been functionally a non-profit in '04, '05, '06, so we're in our fourth year as a functioning non-profit.

You can keep letting me go down, I'm not going to fall off. I don't know if you were worried about that.

HD: Well, you know I didn't wanna ...

AE: ... I'm fine. I'm a dancer, I've got good balance.

HD: That's true, so how did that swing dance event two weeks ago come off?

AE: It was great. You can also see the pictures on my Flickr site of that!

HD: I looked at some pictures on your Flickr site of the dancing.

AE: How did that go, or how did that come about, was that ...?

HD: ... how did it go?

AE: It went really well. We had beautiful weather. It was like 75 to 85 all weekend.

HD: It was a spectacular weekend.

AE: Venues went well. You know, I did a lot of the event on my own personal relationships. We weren't doing it under the guise of an organization, so the liability was really on my head personally. I had a co-organizer from Windsor, but really it was on my head. So if anything got messed up, I knew I took on that responsibility. And nothing got messed up! No one messed up any venue or anything like that. We had, I think, twelve different venues, eight DJ's, three bands, ...

HD: ... it looked from the description of the schedule like an incredibly complex ...

AE: ... one of the easiest events I've organized!

HD: Oh, really?

AE: What's good about these--it's called a Lindy Hop Exchange, a Lindy Exchange--it's pretty formulaic. I travel to these things all the time, you have certain things. So you don't have to think, Well, when will we have a dance? You have a pre-Exchange dance on Thursday, Friday night dance, Friday late-night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Saturday late-night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, Sunday late-night ...

HD: ... oh, that's all? You don't have to think about anything! [laugh]

AE: Well, and then generally your Friday night and your Saturday night and maybe Sunday night, you try to have a live band. The other times you generally have DJ's. We committed to doing over 50 percent wood floors, because that helps everyone's knees ...

HD: ... I noticed that you made a point of describing what the surface was going to be at each venue. I thought that was interesting.

AE: It's pretty important for dancers. We might use any proceeds we have to buy another portable wood floor. We built one on Saturday night at the [Michigan] Ladder Company, which was a pretty fun venue.

HD: Wow. So you just built a floor out of what, plywood, or?

AE: Well, someone has one that we put together, but we had to assemble it with screws. Yeah, it's finished plywood and has a frame underneath.

HD: Let me ask you about this terminology, 'exchange'. What exactly gets exchanged, or is that simply the vocabulary you use to describe any swing dance event, the way that in the tango community ... ?

AE: ... no, no, a Lindy Exchange is a specific thing. And there's a really good explanation, if you want more, on Wikipedia, if you look up 'Lindy Exchange'. I think it started between San Francisco and Chicago, where basically--like a foreign exchange student--a bunch of people from one city, swing dancers, went to another city. The other city basically hosted them, had them sleep on their floors, and took them out dancing and had events the whole time. So that's sort of the idea. It's different from other swing dance events in cities that would have lessons, workshops, classes, or competitions, which also exist. So an Exchange specifically is only social dancing the whole time. There may be performances, but not competitions.

HD: So if you were to have a competition under the rubric of something running as an Exchange, people would say, Hey, you can't do that!

AE: Yeah, it wouldn't quite be an Exchange. But there are plenty of other things that are in that whole sort of genre. You know in advance what it is. I think competitions are sort of a different story. We have what we like to call 'rock-stars' and there's more stratification. I mean, there's already automatically stratification of people based on dance level. It's an interesting social structure in a dance community. I don't know what other dance communities are like, but I assume similar--other partner-dance communities--in that your social capital is not based on how you look, or how old, or young you are or anything like that. It's based on your ability to dance. And you could be 80 years old. I mean, the best dancer is Frankie Manning, who is one of people who founded Lindy Hop in the 30's, who came out of retirement in the 80's after being begged for years after people saw him in old movies from the 30's--like Day at the Races or some of these old movies that Lindy Hoppers watch. He had been a postman in New York and he retired, so some swing dancers in New York begged him to bring it back. So finally he did. And I think Frankie just turned 96.

HD: And he's still dancing?

AE: Yeah. He's incredible. And he travels and teaches every year.

HD: You ever dance with him?

AE: I can't remember if I danced with him. I mean, I've been at events where he comes and teaches. His son, who's in his late seventies also is a teacher. It's a dance that was born in Harlem in the 30's, the predecessor to jitterbug, which was more of a white-people dance in the 40's. So anyway, Lindy Exchange, people come and you make it as low-cost as possible. You know, you house people on floors and things like that the best you can.

HD: So how many people did you have staying with you?

AE: I only had like five. Five or six. In my little house. Four on the floor in the living room, and one in my room, and one on the floor in my office.

HD: How many could you pack in, realistically?

AE: Well, if I actually had my guest room cleaned, but my guest room wound up being the room that all of the rest of the junk went into, so ironically my guest room was the one room not used! And if I had my basement cleaned, then maybe--but you know, it's a basement. I was potentially, if we had overflow, going to have people camp in my backyard, or sleep in the greenhouse in my yard. But that wasn't necessary. What we did is we ended up renting a house, which is something no other Exchange has done, from what we've heard. There's a big house that used to be a group home in Ypsi behind one of the community gardens. And so I called the owner, who used to be a non-profit director--we didn't know each other, but she knows of us because of the community garden--so I said, Hey, can I rent your house? I know it's on the market and it's empty. We're gonna bring in tons of people with air mattresses and I'm going to give you a couple hundred dollars! And that worked for her and we put 25 people in that house.

HD: Wow. 25!

AE: An empty house, you know. People brought air mattresses and sleeping bags and 25 people stayed there.

HD: So she still had the power and the water on and everything?

AE: Mmm hmm. So that went pretty well. We had about 120 people at most of the event and then about another probably 50 or so for our Saturday night event, like local people.

HD: What's the longest distance anybody came? Or was this all people from some other specific city?

AE: No, no, no they were from all over. Well, let's see, the farthest would be San Diego ...

HD: ... that's pretty far ...

AE: ... Montreal, Florida, Texas, I'm trying to think, San Francisco? I don't think we ended up having San Francisco, and we didn't have any Seattle. New York. I mean, all over the place.

HD: So do you watch this show, I think it's on FOX, So You Think You Can Dance?

AE: Wait, is that different from ...

HD: ... it's different from Dancing with the Stars.

AE: No, I don't think I've ever seen that one. Maybe I've seen it once.

HD: I think the winner last year, his specialty was West Coast Swing.

AE: Oh, a Westie! So, see that's a whole different world. In swing dancing there's different subcultures. So West Coast Swing, which is more like related to Hustle, it's a whole community with a whole genre of music, and styles of dance and kinds of venues, which is different from Lindy Hop. My mom is actually a huge swing dancer--at age 65. She grew up in Memphis in the 50's and did what they called Bop, right, which was basically swing dancing in the 50's during the Elvis era. And then after I started dancing about 10 years ago, she got back into it, and she does what's called Imperial Swing. Which is sort of a regional thing, but she goes to dances, and there's tons of people there, and they're more-so in their 30's through their 60's and 70's, where Lindy Hop is more like 20's through 40's in terms of age as a generalization. They have a slightly different style of music. And it's a different step. Even though it's a different dance, but you can sort of dance together. Like I can dance with her, because I lead. But it's clear we're not doing the exact same thing. But she goes to dances where the weekly dance has 400 and something people.

HD: The weekly dance. So every week??

AE: Yeah. It's crazy. We don't have any weekly dances that have 400 people. At the height of the Union in Ann Arbor here, years ago, I was teaching lessons and we had a hundred and something. And that was like, Oh my gosh, I can't believe we have so many people!! For a weekly lesson.

HD: Huh. So your mom lives in ... ?

AE: St. Louis. That's where I'm from.

HD: Oh really!

AE: I've been here 11 years. Since I came to Michigan to U of M in '96.

HD: Well, huh. Let me appeal to my prep sheet to see if there's anything I've totally missed. Oh! I know what I wanted to ask you. You said [in a pre-totter email] that Lauren Kingsley is a friend of yours?

AE: Mmm hmm!

HD: Who used to live diagonally across the street ...

AE: ... yeah, I painted that door that color it is now!

HD: You painted that door?!

AE: I personally painted that door, when she was getting ready to sell the house.

HD: Wow. So that would have been during the time I was living here.

AE: Uh huh!

HD: Do you happen to know Dick Siegel?

AE: You know, I don't really know Dick personally, but we say, Hi, at things like Spackfest. I know a lot of the local musicians. For a while I was working with his now wife, Karen--she was a teacher who was doing some things for another non-profit I was working with. We don't really know each other personally.

HD: How about Chris Buhalis?

AE: Mmm hmm.

HD: You know him, or just know of him?

AE: No, I know him. We're not good friends, but we're friendly acquaintances, we haven't spoken in quite a while.

HD: The reason I asked you about those two is that when Chris Buhalis drove up, he said something like, You know I really like this street. And I said, Well, have you been here before? And he said, Yeah, Dick Siegel and I did some work on that house over there, Lauren's house. Actually the work was--you know how Lauren's house has that vaulted ceiling in the back bedroom, all of us on the street are jealous of that back bedroom with the vaulted out ceiling ...

AE: ... yeah, that was her studio ...

HD: ... so yeah, I thought, Wow, Ann Arbor is like a small, small community in some respects.

AE: Well, I knew Lauren originally because she was a big swing dancer, too.

HD: Oh really!

AE: That's how I met Lauren, and that was before she was even with Jack potentially--you know, who she's married to now?

HD: Yeah, you mentioned Spackfest, so ...

AE: ... yeah, Jack Spack. So I think that's before she and Jack were even dating potentially, or maybe just when they were starting to date. I can't remember the exact timeline. But yeah, so I knew her from that context. And I sort of knew various local musicians and then those worlds came together when Jack and Lauren came together somewhat.

HD: I wanted to go back to something you said about what your social capital is at a swing dance and meeting people and dancing with them. I've heard tell that in the world of tango--and I don't know anything about the world of tango except what I've been told--but there's just, I guess, a really rigid protocol for how you go about asking somebody to dance, and you're not supposed to even talk, you're supposed to do it with your eyes. So what's the deal with swing dancing? Is it just a matter of fumbling your way through it however you can manage to do it?

AE: To ask someone to dance, specifically?

HD: Yeah. Or is it just like eighth grade all over again?

AE: Well, you know what, the Lindy Hop community is really laid back. You know back in the swing craze when people were getting all vintage-y--I have a whole vintage wardrobe that I almost never wear--but around here, and most of the main Lindy Hop scene is casual. You know, I go dancing in this. So pretty casual. And the social atmosphere is also that way for the most part. Different scenes in different cities have different reputations. But anyone goes up and asks anyone else to dance. And you say, Yes. The etiquette is that you say, Yes, unless you have a really good reason not to. And you go dance with them, and then you end the dance, and you say, Thank you, to one another, that's it. And anyone should be able to ask anyone.

HD: So what counts as a really good reason not to dance with someone?

AE: Like, I just danced 10 songs and I have to catch my breath, or go get some water, or I'm on my way to the bathroom, or I'm done for the night. Those are kind of like your only excuses. Or, I told someone else I would dance with them the next song. Because it's against etiquette to turn someone down ...

HD: ... because I don't think you're a good enough dancer to dance with me?

AE: Well, to turn someone down and then dance with someone else the same song. Unless you say, Oh, I told them I'd get them the next song. But that's totally against etiquette. So I may say, No, because I really don't want to dance with that person honestly--and I just don't because they pull my arms out of their sockets, or whatever--and someone else comes, who I really want to dance with, and I have to say, I can't, we have to wait until the next song.

HD: So are there people on the swing dance scene who just aren't very good dancers and have a reputation for being really poor dancers, even though they've been doing it a long time?

AE: [laugh][laugh]

HD: I'm not asking you for names!

AE: If you ever have Lauren Kingsley over for a teeter, you should ask her that! Because back in the day, she used to have nicknames for everyone. The Sweaty Stranger. The Arm Twister. Yeah, there are a few people who've been doing it a long time and who just aren't very good. And there's always lots of beginners. But what I've always felt--and I'm one of the best dancers in this scene, and I've been doing this a long time--is that dancing with a beginner is fine and it's great. It's dancing with someone who thinks they know more than they do, or are better than they are, they are often really bad in ways where they are really jerky or things that literally hurt, you know, or are like really forceful. Just a nervous beginner, that's totally fine, that's great. That's how they get better--by dancing with people who are better than them. That's how I got better.

I don't teach that much anymore, but I love teaching beginners. Just because we've all been there. I remember those first days in 1997--I think it was '97, or '97-'98--at the Blind Pig. There were these hot-shots there, and they were all doing flips--which is really silly, good dancers don't do that unless it's performance or competition, it's not appropriate on a social dance floor. But you're like, Woah, they're such rock-stars! And I remember the feeling of having to get the nerve up to ask someone to dance, and taking like three songs to get the nerve up to ask them to dance, because I thought they were so much better. And then at the beginning you apologize your way through the whole dance, I'm sorry! Oh, oh! I'm sorry, sorry! Oh! We've all been there, you know.

The other mistake people make is that people who think that you have to have a partner. The only reason you need a partner is if you're teaching someone, or if you compete with them. But you don't get better until you dance with lots of different people. If you dance with just one person--I know lots of people that this was the case, they dance really just with one person and they didn't dance with other people, and they may look like they're kinda good. But then you dance with them and you realize they really can't dance very well.

HD: So they're not versatile enough to actually deal with ...

AE: ... they only know the exact cues of that one person. But that's really different from knowing how to dance. Over all the years at Top of the Park and all sorts of different places I've danced, where there's non-dancers there, the people come up and are like, Oh my gosh, how many years have you been dancing together? You look so amazing! And it's literally someone I don't know, It's the first time we've ever danced together! And people will be just like, Woah! And that's happened many, many, many different times over the years, with people I just met.

HD: Well, listen, I don't want to dismount from the teeter totter without talking to you about Shadow Art Fair coming up--is it, not this next coming weekend, but the following weekend, right? [14 July 2007]

AE: Is that the 14th?

HD: Yeah.

AE: Shadow Art Fair's coming up!

HD: Yeah, and you're going to be there with your photographs?

AE: I'm going to be there, my third time!

HD: So you haven't missed one.

AE: I haven't missed one!

HD: So now, I mean for people who have exhibited at all three, I think there's probably going to be some pressure to be at all of them on into the future?

AE: Well, I don't know, because it's getting competitive now. We had to get applications--the first time was sort of a little less formal, and the second time was a little more formal, and this time was ...

HD: ... really rigorous ... ?

AE: ... like not guaranteeing you a spot.

HD: So do you have any idea what percentage of people were accepted? I mean, what the rejection rate was?

AE: No, I haven't asked the folks that. I think they're letting most of the people who did the first ones back in, kind of thing. But I don't know that for sure. It's really space that's the issue. If we had more space, we'd have more people. The Corner Brewery is such a cool place to have it, but I wonder at what point we're going to go to like a big tent in the parking lot, too. Which would be awesome! And plenty of art fairs are like that!

HD: Or say, like a big community center at some non-profit that has recently built a new center?

AE: Yeah! Giddyup! We could totally do it there.

HD: So you're going to have sets of these vegetable cards that you have there for sale?

AE: Yeah. Actually, my whole rack that I'll have there has been at the Ypsi Co-op, so people can go anytime and buy them. I'll have to go and take them from the Co-op and reorganize them to take them to the Shadow Art Fair. And then--I got this late fall--I got a really nice photo printer. In a moment of weakness, but I bought it from Big George's so that I could support the local economy, instead of buying it cheaper online, which is important.

HD: Plus with their green roof.

AE: And with their green roof. And I specifically told them why I was coming and buying it from them, and that I could have spent the 500 dollars online, and spent only 400 dollars. And, you know, I also just really wanted it really fast. I decide I want something, and then I'm intense like that. So I can print 13 by 19's.

HD: Woah!

AE: Which are so fun!

HD: At how many dpi?

AE: Ahhhh, I don't actually know!

HD: As fine as you need to, at any rate.

AE: Yeah. It's amazing, because like I've got a picture of little yellow baby patty-pan squash that the squash are like this big and the print they're like this big.

HD: So in the print they're bigger than in real life.

AE: Much bigger. Most things are much bigger than real life, which is so fun. And so I'd actually like to get into marketing those to restaurants, because they're definitely like the bright, colorful kind of things you see in a restaurant or on a grocer's wall. What's fun about my little photo business is that it's something I've been doing--taking photos--for a long, long, long time. But I can do it as much or as little as I want. I have aspirations, but I'm not responsible to anyone else, as opposed to the rest of my life.

HD: So when you're thinking of taking a vegetable shot, are you thinking of already categorizing it into one of the groups of colors? Because they're organized by color.

AE: My whole life is organized by colors!

HD: So if you were to take a look at, I dunno, say those ferns, would you be thinking primarily, Okay, that's going to go into the green section?

AE: [headshake]

HD: No?

AE: No. You know, I have a visual appetite, so I take pictures of whatever appeals to me. I have a lot of pictures--I have a billion pictures of like blah blah blah already, I don't really need to take another. Unless there's something really neat, like the light is different, or the display is different, or whatever that might be. I mean, I just take whatever is appealing to me, and that's how I organize later, because that's the way that makes the most sense to me--is to organize everything by color.

HD: But it's after the fact? It's not the case that you'd say, I don't want to take that photograph, because it doesn't fit nicely into any one particular color category?

AE: No, the only reason I would not take something, is if I know I have a very similar picture 80 billion times already. Like, there's only so many pictures you can take of, I don't know, apples when you're apple picking, you know? They all look kind of similar after a while. Okay, that's sort of done. I don't really need to take that many more apple-picking pictures.

HD: Do you have an adequate supply of pictures of pole beans?

AE: Ahhhhm, pole beans are a difficult thing. I don't know if I would say adequate.

HD: Because I've got a stunning pole bean patch in front of the house.

AE: I have a camera in my bag.

HD: [laugh]

AE: We'll see what the light in the front looks like. It'll be pretty okay, probably.

HD: Well, it'll be in the shadows, because the sun is over there.

AE: That's better. Better than bright sun. So that's what's fun about my little photo endeavor. What's interesting is that my mom is an artist, my dad's an architect, my brother's an architect, my sister-in-law's a landscape architect, and I'm this sort of entrepreneur and non-profit director. My other brother is an engineer and a music industry person, so he doesn't fit the mold either. My grandmother is an artist. So we're all very visual people. But what I realized is that the difference between me and my mom is that she's an artist at heart, and I'm an entrepreneur at heart, who also has creative tendencies. So for me, the excitement is both in the creative endeavor of taking the picture and seeing what this tool of the camera can do, but also then in what can I do, and what can I make from it, and being an entrepreneur. And she's like the artist exploring her medium, and hopefully some money will come out of it at some point. Which just frustrates the bujeezus out of me. I'm like, C'mon, you have the skills to do something that's like replicable and saleable. Go make some money!

HD: I wanted to ask you along those lines, with all these photographs of vegetables you already have, sorted by color, what I thought of immediately was the same concept I talked with Nancy Shore about a little bit when S.O.S. Community Services was doing a food drive--the idea was you were supposed to make art out of food. I thought it would be cool if you could arrange the cans in a way such that you got a pointillistic effect from a big wall of stacked cans so that the smaller images together, if you looked at them together from a distance would form some larger image--the Mona Lisa or whatever. And I was thinking, you know, your pictures that are predominantly one color or another, that you could take those and then--surely there's software that you can just dump pictures into and it'll just slam them together into what I think would be a really kick-ass looking poster you could sell.

AE: Yeah, there's a lot of tools on Flickr--you can end up spending lots of time--where you'll drop a set in and it'll do it in a spiral, or where you make a mosaic tile of different ...

HD: ... oh really!

AE: Most of them you do it, and it just gives you an image, it doesn't give you --well, I guess some of them you can pay to have them printed, like 16 by 20, and they're pretty cheap. It's easy to get way into that. I get so excited about all those different things that I can't decide. Then I'm like, Okay, wait, I just need to update my website for the Shadow Art Fair, stay focussed. I get so excited about this or that or the other, because I'm an ideas person, right? So the ideas are endless and I'm dreaming of a whole wall at my house, or in my office, I can imagine covering in kind of a similar way. But, Okay no, let's get back to what the priority is, to be able to do this, to go to the next step.

HD: So I haven't seen any discussion of those kind of tools on Flickr. Is that a function of having a Pro account?

AE: I have a Pro account, which is only like 25 bucks a year, so it's not much. I put a fraction of my pictures on Flickr, a very small fraction, but I put some of the best ones up. And I upload them full-size, so it acts as an external backup, which is really a nice 25 dollars worth of peace of mind. If the other backup systems go, which doesn't always happen regularly, at least those are there, and re-capturable. But if you go to Flickr and you say 'do more with your pictures' there's links to a bunch of other services. There's a service called Blurb, which just got intertwined with Flickr. It's an online book service. You know how there are these services now where you can actually upload digital pictures, and put them on whether a pre-made or your own layout, and put text if you need to, and they send you like a printed hardbound book?

HD: Wow.

AE: So a lot of people are doing that for weddings and things like that. And it's amazing what you can do now. So Blurb, they have a whole program, software you download for free, to actually do it. It also integrates on Macs with your iPhoto, which is really nice, so you open up their little program that you've down loaded, and it opens your iPhoto, and you can literally drag-and-drop, and it resizes appropriately. It's pretty amazing. So I have 15 half-started projects. I'm like, Oh, I'll do a cookbook, and I'll do a this, and I'll do a that!! The opportunities are endless. But I'm like, First, okay, Shadow Art Fair is next week, so I need to order prints so that I've got some and decide on my framing.

HD: What time does that start? Is it at 9[am]?

AE: 12[noon] to 8[pm]. [Ed. note: It could go until midnight based on information published elsewhere ... but if Amanda leaves at 8pm and you show up at 9pm expecting to buy vegetable cards and buttons, well, that'll be your own fault.]

HD: 12 to 8, so it doesn't start until noon?

AE: Hipster artists, indie artist people are probably not the ones to get there at 6am to set up. There's going to be music. I hope it's not too loud. I hope the music is outside. Because the music, when they did the music ...

HD: ... has the music been too loud to your taste in the past?

AE: The second one in December was a Friday night from 8 to midnight, and then Saturday from 12 to 8, which was exhausting. So Friday they had music. And it was all inside, because it was December, totally enclosed, windows closed, etecetera. It was so loud. Because there were a buhzillion people and there was music, and it was really ...

HD: ... and you don't have the option as a vendor to say, Ah, I'm just going to bag it, because it's too loud.

AE: Did you go to either of them?

HD: Yeah, I went to them both, yeah.

AE: It was so packed ...

HD: ... actually, I take that back, I didn't go to the Friday edition of the second Fair, just both Fairs.

AE: Oh, so just the Saturday one. So it was great, I mean great for sales, it was an overwhelming success, and I feel like really indicative of what I love about Ypsi. There's a lot of really community-based stuff coming up--it's just people who put together things, Hey, can we use Corner Brewery? And putting together creative resources, and everyone loves it, and eats it up. It's exactly the kind of local business, local community development that we need. I got to know Mark Maynard--well, Linette [Mark's wife] has done some graphic design for us, and then we got to know each other ...

HD: ... and when you say 'us' you mean Growing Hope?

AE: For Growing Hope, yeah. She did our brochure, actually. There was a bunch of us who came together around the mayoral election last year in Ypsi. Because that the primary--because it's all Democratic--pretty much decided the election. So the primary last August was key. A lot of us who are, whether readers of Mark's blog--which I read here and there--or other people, came together and decided on having a city-wide mayoral debate. So it was this random group of community members, now who I'm good friends with many of them--a professor at EMU, a librarian, Mark, and me, and just totally random people.

We came together and we planned this debate, and it was a huge success. We wanted a non-partisan debate, because all the candidates were being asked to go to all the neighborhood association meetings, so that was hit-or-miss if anyone could get all three of them there. And we wanted something that would really bring in a diversity--well, that was my plug--to bring in a diversity of the community. So we held it at Eastern [Michigan University], because it was like a culturally neutral place, and we had it moderated formally with a big clock. We had the community submit questions on a blog, and in community boxes--I made sure the boxes got to all the low-income social services places and public housing, and things like that. We chose from the questions, and came up with a slate of questions, and came up with a way to do audience questions later. So we had this really professional debate. And we had like 350 people there. That was about over a quarter of the people who ended up voting in the primary in terms of numbers. So we thought that was kind of cool.

My personal mission was to make chickens an election issue. Have you followed the urban chicken in Ypsi, the whole ... ?

HD: Yeah, Peter Thomason was actually over here on the teeter totter ...

AE: ... oh, that's right! He told me he tottered!

HD: Yeah, so I noticed you've got some pictures on your Flickr site of chickens ...

AE: ... we just wrote a big grant together, Peter and I.

HD: Oh, yeah?

AE: Those are his [chickens].

HD: Yes, I know! And what tipped me off--and maybe you'd disagree--but when I was looking at this picture of this very young chicken on your Flickr site, just in the background, you can see this face, and I thought, Sean Connery?? How did he wind up in Amanda's chicken picture? And then I said, Oh, that's not Sean Connery, that's Peter Thomason.

AE: I could see that! So Peter, we helped support him last year when he was trying to get through the whole chicken thing. And I was like, I'm determined as a community member to make this an election issue. Because I was one of the planners of the debate, and it was going on blogs and things like that, and I was talking about it all around.

HD: Well, it didn't make it into the core questions, right? It was one of the supplemental questions as I recall?

AE: No, I think it was a core question.

HD: At any rate, I remember the question being asked at the debate.

AE: Anyway, Khalil [Hachem], the Ypsi community news reporter for the Ann Arbor News, his article opened and closed with the chickens--it was a nice catch thing that chickens had become. And then I don't know if you saw the thing the whole Paul Schreiber thing with the chickens?

HD: No, I didn't follow that.

AE: Well, some time after that, because Paul was a little wavering on his chicken support--I mean, he's ultimately chicken supportive--but he was being a little wavering. And I have no idea who did it, but one day in the median on Michigan Avenue in front of Bombadill's, there was a Paul Schreiber For Mayor sign, and it says 'Paul Schreiber'--they covered up the other thing and it's in marker written--'No Friend of Chickens'.

HD: [laugh]

AE: And someone took a picture. And people were like, Amanda!! And I was like, C'mon, I wouldn't do something like that! It's become kind of a theme, and I wanted it to be really a launching to more talk about food security and urban agriculture. And with our whole farmer's market that we run now, which has been kicking ass, it is more and more of a theme. We did it! It's about citizens coming together and making voice. And social community marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, we make things on the agenda of our officials.

HD: So the Growing Hope Center, that plot, is it zoned appropriately so that you could keep chickens there if you wanted to?

AE: From your discussion with Peter, you probably learned that nothing's zoned agricultural in the city. What he is challenging is based on the Michigan Right to Farm Act allowing that kind of activity to supercede the zoning. So there's a debate related to that, versus health code restrictions and how those do or don't relate, and he's trying to push the boundary. So I'm staying ...

HD: ... you're staying clear of any controversy at the moment.

AE: I am a big advocate for chickens, but I'm not showing a chicken coop in the site plan for the Growing Hope Center.

HD: [laugh]

AE: We will have livestock in the form of worms, composting worms.

HD: I'm sorry, what?

AE: We'll have livestock in the form of composting worms. But bees, for instance, are also not allowed technically, although there are people who definitely have bees.

HD: You know, I heard tell that there's somebody up in the [xxxx] Street area here in Ann Arbor, who keeps chickens. You don't know anything about that, do you?

AE: Well, I should say, my friend, a few years ago, was house-sitting, not on [xxxx Street]--I know there's bunch of Ann Arbor chickens, but there are some that are off of [wwww Street] ...

HD: ... wait up ...

AE: ... I've seen Ann Arbor chickens.

HD: Really?

AE: Oh, yeah. Different places. But years ago, off of [wwww Street]--[yyyy Street] or one of those little streets. A friend of mine was house-sitting for someone who had the chickens, and she'd have to go over and switch the chickens between the day coop and the night coop or whatever. And a couple of them got out, and I'm imagining a couple of chickens running down [wwww Street], which is just a really funny image. I don't know if that person still lives there and I don't know them personally. But there are Ann Arbor chickens.

HD: I'll redact appropriately to protect the innocent.

AE: The chicken folk. Urban chickens, the first time I saw urban chickens, probably in Seattle, many years ago now. You know, little bitty postage-stamp-size backyards, smaller than this probably. It's been done so well, so many places, with no problems.

HD: Well, Peter Beal--you know who Peter Beal is, right?

AE: Stewart Beal's dad? Is that the Beal as in Beal and Company, J.C. Beal, the developer?

HD: Mmmm, I don't know. He's the guy who's losing his house because of a tax issue, it's the 1960 South Maple property.

AE: Totally different Beal, but yeah, I know who you're talking about.

HD: Well, when he was here, he assured me that I could keep a couple hundred chickens back here no problem--from the point of view of the chickens. I think it might be worth scaling back that concept to maybe two to three. I mean, if we were to say, in Ann Arbor, investigate an ordinance that would allow the keeping of chickens, something on the order of two to three would be an easier sell than two hundred.

AE: I've been amazed at Peter's--there's quite a few chickens back there and yeah, they're still young, but they're growing day by day--how they're so not imposing at all. They're in a little house, that's what they do, they hang out, they don't make noise. Chickens aren't something that smell particularly, so I've been kind of surprised. I mean, I'm not planning on having chickens myself. I have cats and dogs in my neighborhood and in too much quantity for chickens, and I wouldn't take care of them properly. Worms are enough for me to keep alive, and a cat. But I was amazed, because I was thinking oh, two to three, that would make sense too. And he had so many, and then I was like, Oh, it's really not a big deal. You should go visit him. I mean, they're right in downtown.

HD: Maybe I'll do that sometime.

AE: He lives a block over from downtown.

What else?

HD: I dunno, anything you got on your mind you wanted to make sure we covered here for the historical totter record?

AE: Ahhhhhhm, I coined the term, 'ypsivangelist' but I haven't trademarked it yet! Yeah, I used to have a website but I let the hosting expire, and I wasn't really doing much anything with it.

HD: So you were the ypsivangelist?

AE: I am a self-proclaimed ypsivangelist.

HD: Do you have a holy book?

AE: I don't. Just all things Ypsi. You know, I moved to Ypsi six years ago, I think. No wait, six years in Ann Arbor, so five years in Ypsi now. When I do something, I do it full force, whatever I do, I do it--intensely and love it and am very purposeful about it. So I moved to Ypsi and I've dived in to the community at every level. And I'm living there and recruiting people to move there, etcetera, etcetera.

Ann Arbor is Ann Arbor, and I loved all my time in Ann Arbor. And I'm still in Ann Arbor all the time and it's a great place. But I'm glad I'm in Ypsi. One of the reasons I wanted to have this whole dance event in Ypsi--it was in Ann Arbor some, but mostly in Ypsi--a lot of these people from all over the country were like, Wait, I want to move to Ypsi, Ypsi is cool. Because we showed them all the cool stuff about it. And that was so fun to have people come in from out of town, who when they've come to town before, have only ever come to do dance stuff in Ann Arbor. Because oh, why would you go to the other side of the tracks, so to speak? There's a ground-swelling there.

I kind of like being in a city that's the underdog, you know? I mean, it's struggling, and it's really hard, but it also gives a chance for engagement. In my experience, what I've noticed about activism in Ypsi versus Ann Arbor, is in Ann Arbor there's lots of people who are really active in city politics, and government, and issues and whatever. But it feels pretty factionalized. Like here's my issue. Ypsi, I just feel like the general feeling--plenty of us have different views on what way to go with different things--but like it feels like we're all invested in Ypsi being a good place. And it feels a lot more unified in that. You know, people go to the Ann Arbor City Council Meeting about their issue, like they go about their ...

HD: ... and it's the same issue every time over and over. And you never see that person speak to any other issue, ever. And so there's certain personalities that become associated with a particular issue. And I think that--probably unfairly--a lot of people will say, Oh, well I can't work with that person on this other issue, because I disagree with them on that other issue, and I think of them as this one-dimensional creature who cares only about Issue A. So Issue B, well, I can't work with them on Issue B, because they only care about Issue A, which I happen to disagree with them on.

AE: It just feels unified, but with different opinions, and often vastly different opinions. But we're in this to try to make it better. People in Ypsi, I feel a lot of the people who are real active are there on purpose. On purpose and with purpose. And that's nice.

And the Shadow Art Fair is people--who aren't all from Ypsi--coming together and just doing things. Like this debate that we had. And after that debate we stayed together and we had a downtown forum, and I was a facilitator for basically a big community-wide strategic planning session. We're not the government, right? But we got the mayor, and council, and planning commissioners and folks, and business owners, and community members all showed up. And we were just a random group of people being like, We're doing this! Because it's a smaller community, you really have a chance to have a voice--well, I could probably argue myself against that one. But I feel like I have an opportunity to have a voice. I have the social capital of being white and being known from other professional things that I do, and not everyone has that.

HD: So you think in Ypsi that African-Americans lack sufficient social capital to achieve certain things, or?

AE: I don't want to make that generalization about Ypsi, but in society overall, sure. And that is true in most every community, everywhere that various marginalized groups, underrepresented groups, have different access. So I really try in my work in Growing Hope and in my life in general, every day, to recognize the privilege I have, the privilege that I was born into the world with--being white and middle class and living in the United States. That already puts me already so far ahead of so many other people in the world and I need to recognize that, and use that to be vocal about the equity issues around that and social justice issues. That's not something I should feel guilty about, but to me, because I have that privilege, it's almost more reason that I need to use that privilege ...

HD: ... that you have some particular responsibility to weigh in on behalf of people who don't have that kind of social capital?

AE: Yeah, or even more-so work to empower, and to change the system so that people can have their own chance for a voice to actualize their potential or whatever that is. That's different from the attitude of the classic social service model of helping people. Like, Oh, we're the people with the social capital, who are here to help the poor people or give service! It's a model of capacity-building. That's a difficult thing to define, but it's about helping people help themselves, or teaching someone to fish so that they can eat for a lifetime, or whatever analogy ...

HD: ... [laugh] we need a new cliche for that. Someone should come up with a different analogy.

AE: We sure do. But that's that's one reason I do the work that I do, is that I was born into the world as a privileged person. I mean to have the privilege to go to an out-of-state university? I was actually the speaker of my high school graduation, because I was the valedictorian, but I was speaker at my college graduation, too, at the U of M--School of Natural Resources, where I did undergrad and grad school. I was like, Well, here I've got the chance, I've got the floor! This is my chance to really say something good!

So my whole speech was about privilege. And it was about specifically the privilege that anyone graduating from the University of Michigan, no matter what your background, automatically has. The privilege of that degree and the social capital from that degree, right? You can probably go get all sorts of jobs, not automatically, but. And you sort have the privilege to not care, and to forget the social justice, because you could probably live in the middle class. I mean not entirely--there are plenty of people who are homeless and have university degrees--but overall, you could probably live in the middle class and forget about people who don't have that opportunity. It's easy to live a middle-class lifestyle.

It's easy to live in Ann Arbor. And it's not as easy to live in Ypsi--well, it's easy, I love it. But I'm surrounded by people who are really different from me in lots of different ways, socio-economically and racially, and in other values and different beliefs. And I feel like there are certain communities where living the classic suburban life is very much like a bubble world. When you graduate from a prestigious university, you have the privilege to go that direction. So my speech was sort of like, Don't forget that you have the privilege to--I don't know how I phrased it. I was the undergrad speaker, and then the graduate speaker, the person who just finished grad school, he was like, Remember when Burt Barnes took us on this field trip and ha ha ha ...

HD: ... Burt Barnes being a professor?

AE: A professor. He did the reminisce-about-our-times-together, and I was like, Arrrrgggggh! But I got some good feedback about it.

HD: So what was your high school valedictory address about?

AE: High school valedictory address. Well, I was eighteen, right? So my speechwriting skills were not as evolved. I give talks a lot, but I don't write them ever anymore. I can talk for give a talk for like an hour an a half ...

HD: ... so at eighteen you ...

AE: ... no, no, no, at eighteen I wrote it.

HD: And this was in St. Louis?

AE: Yeah. And at U of M, I wrote it that morning of the talk, because I'm a big procrastinator. I didn't go to the graduation at the Stadium because I had to write my speech for the graduation that afternoon at Rackham. In high school I think my talk was about [playful sing-song voice] "Here we've come this far!" And about how we have a lot of labels, and whether we like them or don't like them--like you're the class clown or you're this or that--that all of our peers that we've grown up with have put on us. And we're treated all these different ways because of all these different labels, but here's our chance to either shed them or figure out who you really want to be. We're all leaving each other, so you can really start fresh and really examine who you want to be, not who you've become by default, who others have decided you are. Around that theme.

HD: And what high school was that in St. Louis?

AE: University City. Do you know St. Louis?

HD: I went to school at Washington U.

AE: Oh!

HD: So I'm sort of familiar with the place names, although I lived on campus all four years, and to say I lived in St. Louis is a bit of an overstatement.

AE: Well, Wash. U.'s in Clayton, which is next to U. City.

HD: Well, yeah, geographically close. But I virtually never left campus or the dorms.

AE: What dorm did you live in?

HD: You know, at the time I was there, I don't even think it had a name. It had a letter. G was one year. And H. Since then people have given enough money that they've named them after people, I think. At that period of time they just used letters to designate some of them.

AE: My dad refers to it as Wash-out U.

HD: Oh yeah?

AE: My parents both went there, my mom was an art professor there.

HD: Oh really!

AE: My dad went to the architecture school in the 50's and my mom was in the art school in the 60's. She was a professor in the art school in the 80's.

HD: From what I gather, they've built a lot of new buildings on campus since I was there.

AE: They've got money coming out of their ears.

HD: Apparently.

AE: The thing that makes me mad is that they've bought up a lot of the apartment housing in U. City. So a lot of the stuff just north of The Loop, like Eastgate and Westgate, which was like where a lot of the kids I went to elementary school lived--there wasn't public housing, but pretty low-income housing--and over by Heman Park and Vernon. They've bought a whole lot of that now, meaning that a lot of the poor people in U. City got displaced, because Wash. U. now owns that as student housing.

HD: So they're actually renting it out as student housing?

AE: Mmm hmm. I mean as apartments, but University-owned apartments. So they're not dorms, but yeah, they've bought up a lot, kind of really gentrified it. The Loop has gentrified tremendously in my lifetime. But a fun place to be from. A fun place to go back to.

HD: Yeah, I'm trying to remember when I've been back, maybe once.

AE: What era were you there?

HD: I graduated in '86.

AE: I was in elementary school.

HD: Okay, I feel old.

AE: I was around!

HD: Did you have teeter totters on your elementary school playground?

AE: Flynn Park Elementary.

HD: What park?

AE: Flynn Park. It's the U. City school closest to Wash. U. actually. So Waterman Avenue ...

HD: ... oh, jeez. [laugh]

AE: So the corner of campus, the northwest corner is Big Bend, and Pershing, or Millbrook.

HD: Isn't Skinker along there somewhere?

AE: Yes, Big Bend on one side and Skinker on the other. Skinker's right across the street from Forest Park.

HD: Oh right. Okay, I'm thinking of the wrong side.

AE: So Big Bend, if you're at the corner of campus, which what was there at the time was Channel 9, the PBS station was at that corner. Now it's some dorm or other building. But I grew up like two or three blocks from that corner.

HD: Huh. Wow.

AE: So Flynn Park Elementary school and Flynn Park was right 5 houses down from my house.

HD: So it's conceivable that we might have actually crossed paths? I mean it's possible?

AE: Well, those were the days when I was running around as a little kid on the campus with my mom in the art school. So it's possible.

HD: Probably impossible, though, to go back and recover documentation for a fact.

AE: I don't think we had teeter totters. Back in the day we we had a cool playground with cool metal stuff and this big wooden bridge ...

HD: .. stuff you could actually hurt yourself on?

AE: I think it was probably this tall off the ground, so yeah there was definitely a lot of hurting going on.

HD: Modern playground equipment seems to be designed primarily with the idea that you shouldn't be able to get hurt on it. Which I suppose is reasonable. But still. Some amount of hurt just builds character, I think. Well, listen before we hop off, any last words? [Ed. note: HD means 'final' words. The totter ride ended pleasantly enough.]

AE: Ahhhh, nope!