Peter, Berkeley, CA

I met Peter E. in his studio in Berkeley, California, where he builds metal percussion instruments. We spoke about what it means to be American and about what he would tell a young person growing up in our country today.

     "It’s a double-edged sword, because we have this kind of image of ourselves [in America] of being number one. From baseball players, football players, everybody’s always number one, and we’re number one. And i grew up with that feeling, because I grew up in the second World War, and it was almost like when the Americans entered the European conflict that we were number one. We won the war, so to speak. And as you’ve seen we have a long history of wars. 
    And I don’t have that anymore, but it’s ingrown. It’s just sort of that feeling, and I don’t like it. 
I’m mixed up about it. I’m not a flag waver, but it is certainly an amazing place that we live in."
      "How we were guided as kids, it’s how you give the reins of the horse free... Free rein. And that’s what I would try to get across to a young person. Though young people need guidance—you need to guide them, tell them what’s right and wrong, or try to keep them from getting killed—the other things they can find out."
Peter in his studio, Berkeley, CA

Peter in his studio, Berkeley, CA

     "I was very fortunate to have the experience of having quite a bit of free rein to make decisions for myself. And I think one of the things I learned—and it’s an intellectual thing which I don’t really understand that well—is that there is a system, a definite system that makes us the way we are in America. The school system, and I think there’s certainly racist white protestant ethic in this country. So if I was going to tell somebody, I’d want to say, ‘Be careful of that, follow your dreams.’ That’s very corny, but that’s what I think.
My life had to do with goals. ‘I’m gonna be a lawyer or a musician and I’m gonna go through my life this way.’ Well, musicians are quite a bit different because it’s something they dearly love. But lawyers or business people, they went from one office to another office, these stairs. But that doesn’t happen anymore.” -Peter E.

Jamie, Centralia, WA

I met with Jamie in her home in Centralia, WA. We spent the evening talking about raising her kids and finding work. Here is a bit of her story. 

     “I had four kids and I went back to school and earned three college degrees. Working my way through. Sophia, my youngest, was six months old when I started. She was 6 years old when I graduated with my masters. They were amazing side kicks. I think that is the most interesting part in my life."

Jamie in her living room with her two dogs in Centralia, WA

     "I was absolutely broke… but that wasn't actually what propelled me. I had gotten a job in a doctor's office. I was so excited because I was making $7.50/hr. Minimum wage was $5.15/hr at that point. So I really felt like I had arrived. I was working 40hrs/week. I probably worked there four months or so. I never quite fit in. One of the doctors' wives didn't like me. I was always friendly, and the patients liked me.
     They ultimately let me go. On my unemployment papers they said I was ‘overly friendly and helpful and it interfered with me getting my job done.’ I saved it because I couldn't believe you could fire someone for something like that.
     But I was so worried and so honest that I always put that I was fired when I applied for jobs. So I carried that paper with me around for years. I’m sure it is still in a box somewhere. I wanted to be able to prove that I hadn't done anything that egregious. When I was boohooing about it... my stepdad sat me down and he said, ‘Kid, I only see you having a couple of choices… you are either going to do something like sell used cars, or you are going to become something like a social worker. But if you sit around and cry about it, it probably isn't going to help.’”    - Jamie M.                                                                 

Andy, Olympia, WA

I had worked with Andy for about two years while in school at The Evergreen State College. He also was my roommate for some of that time, camping out in my living room. If I came home and was spinning out from working too much, he was quick to make a spiked hot chocolate and dish it out with me. I went to his new apartment where he finally had his own room, and we talked about growing up and the importance of family. Andy identifies as a queer, mixed-race Irish, Cherokee, Lakota from near Big Fork, Montana. Here is a bit of his story. 

“I told my mom I was gay when I was in 8th grade. I was really nervous about it. I asked my youth pastor to be there with me... and I didn't actually say it, my youth pastor said it for me. My mom got really quiet. We were in a Starbucks... how Washington! Midwest gay kid, moves out to Washington with family, came out to mother in a Starbucks with a youth pastor. How fucking Washington!
    My mother just got really beat red, kind of glazed over, and didn't say anything. She continued to not say anything until I was a sophomore in college. Not that we didn't talk… I am not the most bold homosexual I guess? and I am pretty prudish when it comes to my sex and my relationships. Which doesn't mean I didn't experience things in my teenage years. Or that I wasn't active in the queer community at school and so forth." - Andy G. 

Andy, in his bedroom, in Olympia, WA

     "We knew I was gay when I was in Kindergarten in Montana. I think it was pretty hushed. There was this incident at daycare when I was in Kindergarten, with another kid… and there was play doctor. I vaguely remember what happened… but it was pretty homo-erotic... As a kindergartener, which is so weird. There was a tool and it involved the other kids butt and we got caught by the daycare lady. My parents were called, and there was a long conversation. I'm like 4 or 5, I don't remember... I do remember my step-dads response at the time… He was so pissed. My punishment was that we didn't get to go see the monster trucks and the fair that year. Which was a huge thing... So I knew they were mad at me. 
     I wouldn't say it was obvious that I was gay. What ever obvious looks like. I mean growing up in a pretty farmer cowboy community, I did what every other kid did. Which was ride bikes, play in the woods, get dirty… I don't know. We don't talk about it in my family that much." - Andy G. 
     "I have moved more times than I am old. I think I have moved about 28 times in my life. So home to me is family. That’s when I feel like I’m home. If we don't talk about place based home. I just always grew up in a house that had people in it. Now that I am kind of out on my own in the world, it’s not necessarily home, it’s just me... it’s kind of weird. I think about people that move away from their families and get careers and go on and get married, or whatever. I am just kind of like, ‘God, I'm the first person to go to college’ and I’m also kind of the first person to graduate high school really.
     I am trying to get a higher education so that I can have a career that maybe I love, but also makes enough money so that I can support myself and also my family. I think about moving on with my life and I think that looks like me buying a house for my mother.... making sure that my siblings are well cared for. Because, God... growing up sucked.” - Andy G. 

Leah and Ryan, Raymond, WA

I met with Leah and Ryan at their home in Raymond, WA, in late January. We spoke about American politics, moving to new phases in life, and being drawn to the work you're meant to do.

"In the climate we’re in presently, we talk about all kinds of things. The representation of America, it isn’t what the individuals living it think it is. We have a friend here in Raymond who just recently was laid off from his job… he said something about him being middle class, and nobody's watching out for the middle class. I was just taken aback, because he has been brainwashed or fed certain media to believe that he is middle class... and he is not middle class, he’s very far from middle class. I feel like the government has portrayed this image that the working class is the middle class so that the working class protects the rights of the actual middle class. And that's not very American." - Leah

Leah and Ryan on their porch, Raymond, WA

"So I’m in my 40s now. I started having kids when I was 18. I had three right together in my late teens, early 20s, and then I went to school, got a job and had to support all of them. I had another kid and I had a really good job in my 30s. I worked a lot of hours—50-60 hours a week. I was married to an alcoholic. I had kind of decided that was the way my life was, that was the way it was going to be, and just kind of had made peace with that. One day I got off work early, I came home and my ex-husband had passed out and had set an alarm clock to wake himself up so he could stumble to school to get my daughter, who was in first grade. Not that he hadn’t done 100 other things that were like that or even worse. But for some reason that day... That was enough. So I tossed him and his stuff out. He kept trying to come back, and I had always let him before, 18 years of back and forth. But I had just turned 40, and I just had a change in my mindset and I let him go. I decided that I was going to think about and do some of the things that I really wanted to do ... I wanted to be Me." -Leah
"I don’t like borders, I don’t like nationalism, I don’t like governments. It's fucked, and it's keeping us back as humanity. And this applies to everybody, this applies to a Canadian living in Canada, and this applies to an Argentinian living in Argentina and this applies to a Ghanaian living in Ghana. Everybody’s struggle is the same. I’ve been to 44 states and 28 countries. In the course of my travels, I always met the arrogant European who is like, 'Oh, you’re a fuckin' American,' and I’m like, 'I guess I’m an American, because I have an American passport.' ... Sometimes I'll play into it. One time I was talking with somebody who was like, 'Yeah, America is the best, we're the greatest, we're No. 1,' so I started talking to him about all these great things about America, like 'Yeah, America's got the most obese people, we’ve got the most gun murders.' And half the people started saying 'OK, he’s trolling us.' And this one dude was just not getting it. I was laying the bait out in front of him on a silver platter. And he was getting more and more infuriated. everyone started saying, 'You’ve gotta stop, he doesn’t get that you’re joking.' It was hilarious, though. Yeah I have a fucking passport that says United States of America, I live in Raymond, Washington, I was born here. Sure! But I don’t know, I don’t feel any less of a connection with other people than I do with anybody here. I don't need to be under a flag, I don’t need to be united under a language." - Ryan
"I worked at an OB-GYN in Spokane, and I ended up being terminated from that job because they said I wasn't a good fit. But the trouble for me started after I questioned the doctor I worked for’s unwillingness to prescribe Plan B for one of his patients, who was crying and begging him for it. She could have gone into a pharmacy and purchased it over the counter if she had the $35 in her pocket. Unfortunately she doesn’t have enough money to feed the kids she already has, so she was begging for Plan B and he wouldn’t prescribe it to her. So I provided her with the emergency Planned Parenthood number where you can get services 24 hours a day ... In all of those instances I’ve always been able to find a way around it that I was comfortable with, where I never overstepped." - Leah

Shiloh, Olympia, WA

I spoke with Shiloh in her small trailer home in Olympia, WA. We spent the early winter afternoon talking about growing up and the story of her father. Listen below. 

“I had just turned 18 in August. I get back home and my dad had been gone for almost 24 hours. Out on a run or a binge. My grandmother at this point couldn't even walk to the bedroom, she had to use a commode to use the bathroom. I got her taken care of, got her put to bed. Tried to relax... the mail comes. One of the letters is stacked big from Wells Fargo Bank. My dad had been stealing my grandmothers checks and had been writing them in $25 and $50 increments… he had stolen over $2000 from her. I called the bank and let them know that the checks had been stolen. The only way for her to get her money back, which would have been the only way to pay any of her bills in the house or buy food, was to call the police on my father. " - Shiloh D. (excerpt from interview, listen above for entire story)

Shiloh on her street, Olympia, WA

A Farm in Ojai, CA

I went through Ojai, CA about a month ago and met up with my talented friend Ben Bishop. We met almost 5 years ago during a class at The Maine Media Workshops, somehow we have managed to keep in touch. He showed me around town and at 8 in the morning we went to meet Steve Sprinkles at his farm called Rancho Del Pueblo just above the Ventura River. 
When we arrived there was a group of volunteers picking vegetables for their CSA program. Most of the produce goes towards filling out CSAs as well as to the restaurant The Farmer and the Cook. I took these photos with my 4x5 field camera as they continued to work. 

All of the above photos were shot with my 4x5 camera.