creativity

The Joy of Making Shoes with Kaylee Scoggins Herring

When it comes to picking up new hobbies, Kaylee isn’t shy about trying something completely new and outside her comfort zone. She took her two hobbies of swing dancing and leather working and combined them by learning to create 100% handmade swing dancing shoes. Now she’s expanded to make shoes and boots of all kinds, along the way discovering a community of cordwainers, artisans, historic supply businesses, and classes all over the country. Her enthusiasm is highly contagious and before you know it, you’ll be dreaming up shoes designs and dancing!

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • How Kaylee got started making shoes
  • The highly technical process and the artistry that goes into making shoes
  • Resources to get you started making your own shoes
  • Upcycling materials in shoemaking
  • Hidden message in the soles of the shoes

Links to resources:

About Kaylee:
Kaylee was born and raised on an alpaca ranch on the coast of California, where she spent most of her days learning how to knit, sew, paint, hand spin, and teach herself all types of random crafts.  She used the excuse of a degree to briefly run away to university in Australia, and after securing a degree in archives and records management and becoming a certified archivist, she used the lockdowns as an ideal time to teach herself how to make shoes.  After two workshops and a year and a half of projects, Kaylee has made over a dozen pairs of unique shoes!

creativity

My first collage art publication in a journal

I submitted some of my collage art to Stone Canoe, an award-winning literary and art journal in July. On Friday I found out that one of my pieces was accepted—the first time a piece of my art will be published!

It will be part of Stone Canoe’s 2023 annual journal that is released in March 2023. The mission of Stone Canoe is “to make the work of writers and artists with ties to Upstate New York available to a national audience.” (I grew up in the Hudson Valley on an apple farm.)

This wonderful surprise has inspired me to make more work and submit it more often. I’ll make sure to share the published piece when it’s out in the world. Thanks to Amy and all of you who encourage me and inspire me to keep creating. You can take a look at my collage work here.

creativity

My workplace dream about layoffs and writing comedy

This morning I had a workplace dream so odd I woke up laughing, something I used to do often and haven’t done in years. I can’t keep it to myself because it was, as dreams often are, full of entertainment and insights too good not to share.

I was working at a large media company with a bird as the logo (not the one owned by a billionaire lunatic, the other one). I was sitting in a very grey cubicle in a very grey office in front of my computer when an email popped up. There was a huge layoff and reshuffling of jobs at the company. Most of the company had been laid off but not me. I still had a job and that job had a two-word description stated in the email: Christa Avampato – writes jokes. My boss was J Lo.

My colleagues, and now former colleagues, were a mix of people I knew from my many past real-life jobs and people who were either figments of my imagination or who I’ve yet to meet. Though there was going to be a big meeting with everyone who still had a job the following day at 4pm, I huddled in separate corners of our very grey office with my team, past and present to talk about the reorg.

With the ones who’d been let go, I expressed how sad and outraged I was, wondering aloud how the company was going to get by without them. I was very upset they were leaving. Ironically, none of them were upset and were all making plans to go to dinner to celebrate their departure. They asked me to join them even though I still had a job. Sadly the dream ended before that dinner happened.

With the ones who still had jobs like me, an odd shift of energy happened. We all sat around in a circle, and immediately began drawing up plans of how to move forward. They were all very eager to just get on with it and began drafting up new plans that looked very much like the old plans put together by our now-former colleagues but no one except me saw the irony in that. I asked why we would throw out the old for the new when the new was a replica of the old with nothing more than a shiny new package. “That’s the way it is, Christa,” I was told.

Then the de-facto leader of this little group asked if there were any questions. And if you know me, you know I always have questions and I always ask them. Apparently I’m as utterly myself in dreams as I am in my waking hours. I had two questions:

1.) Why was I, a person who thinks comedy is hands-down the most difficult genre to write and who is by full admission only occasionally and only situationally funny, tasked with writing jokes? If you asked me to tell you a joke right now, I’d draw a total blank. I am by nature a serious person, sometimes too serious.

The leader of the group (the man with the clipboard, pen, and glasses who I’ve never seen before in my life) said, “That’s the point, Christa. If it makes you laugh, then it must be funny.”

As an aside, in real-life, I find most things in life amusing and I am a very easy audience member. I pretty much smile and laugh the whole time. I know it’s damn hard to be really funny and I applaud and support anyone brave enough to give it a try, even if they aren’t funny at all (to me).

2.) Why is it that when companies say they need to cut costs and save money, they often cut people who actually do the work and rarely the people at the very top who do so little work and make so much money? Apparently I had done my research (dreams imitating real life again.) The CEO of this bird media company made $3,000 a minute. That’s roughly $375million / year. Why wasn’t he being asked to give up anything while my friends who made only a tiny sliver of that and did all the work were let go?

Silence from the whole group. J Lo walked by and didn’t even look at us.

My parting thought as I headed back to my grey cubicle was, “Man, they’re really going to wish they hadn’t put me in charge of writing jokes.” Then I woke up.

It’s a shame my dream didn’t include that 4pm company meeting the next day because I’m confident I would’ve had time to come up with some real zingers and I probably would have been fired in a really fantastic, dramatic way that could have made for good comedy. Maybe next time.

I woke up to write down this dream and then walked into the kitchen to make coffee. I’ve got a long day of writing ahead of me that unfortunately won’t include any jokes. (Though maybe some humor in the academic writing I need to do today wouldn’t be such a bad thing!) As I sat down at my laptop, I decided to write up this dream to share with you and a few insights from it bubbled up to the top. They seem worth sharing, too.

1.) Love the company you work with and the company you keep. No matter how long you live, life will always be too short to do anything else. Many of my now dearest friends (and more than one of my past romantic partners) I met through work.

2.) You can be and do lots of things, even those you aren’t particularly good at when you first begin, so long as you love the practice (comedy included!)

3.) Given my love of and belief in the value of practice, and lots of it, it’s ironic that I’ve worked with Carnegie Hall for almost 4 years—a storied institution where practice is so foundational that it’s been their unofficial motto for almost 100 years. It’s also ironic that this unofficial motto started as a situational joke. It’s credited to violinist Mischa Elman who was born the same year Carnegie Hall opened (1891) and made his debut there in 1908 at the age of 17.

4.) For years I’ve wanted to write something funny but always told myself comedy isn’t my thing. Leave that to the experts, to people who are naturally funny, I thought. But maybe this dream was meant to shake things up in my real-life. Maybe it was a message that funny is my future, or at least part of it.

If that 4pm company meeting shows up in a future dream, I’ll be sure to let you know. Maybe my new boss, J Lo, will run it. I sure hope so because I’ve definitely got some funny questions to ask her.

creativity

It’s time to stop building on the Florida coast

Photo of a hurricane by NASA on Unsplash

Climate change impacts are hitting Florida hard right now in the midst of an out of season hurricane. Most of my immediate family lives in Central Florida. My sister messaged me this morning. The coast is a mess—houses washed away and no beach to speak of. Even Orlando, smack in the middle of the state, is in shambles. 

Working on climate change issues is necessary and vital to so many all over the world. That fact is motivates me every single day.

A sobering truth: even if we went to net zero across the globe today, there will still be dire impacts over the next few decades because so much damage has already been done. We have to change how we live now and build mitigation plans at the same time. It’s expensive but it’s the only way to secure any kind of healthy future.

Another sobering truth: we need to start relocating people in the United States. It’s tragic and heartbreaking to say that. No one wants to leave their home. The Florida coast is a gorgeous, precious place. Sadly, because we’ve stuck our heads in the sand on climate change and allowed the profits of big oil to persist and grow exponentially, we have no other choice now. 

It will only get worse from here over the next few decades. Building on the Florida coast is no longer viable. Living on the coast of Florida is no longer viable either. The longer we wait to relocate people, the worse it will get. It’s a brutal policy and will be wildly unpopular but the time for retreat has arrived. 

creativity

Ending a relationship with a writing client

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Today I ended my relationship with a client I’ve worked with since 2015. Over 8 years, 5 editors, and hundreds of interviews, I wrote 50+ pieces for them on education, travel, healthcare, science, and culture. It was a wonderful experience and I’m very grateful for all of the opportunities I had with them. I wish them all the best. Now I’m excited to write for new publications and I’m open to referrals, ideas, and suggestions.

To be true to ourselves, sometimes we have to move on from where we’ve been. It’s not easy to let go of clients or to turn down work, especially when the work is comfortable and easy. But in this new chapter of my life, I’ve committed to only doing work I can do with my whole heart. That means that I have to make tough choices, but I know they’re the right choices for me. I’m excited to see how this space I’ve created in my client book will take shape.

creativity

The Joy of Pizza with Rachel Josar

The Joy of Pizza with Rachel Josar

Pizza. The word alone brings an immediate smile to our faces. We can’t contain the joy it sparks, and nowhere is the joy of pizza more prevalent than in New York City. Rachel Josar, the creator and host of the They Had Fun podcast, joins the JoyProject podcast to talk about all things pizza, her weekly tradition with her husband, her passion for this incredible city, and the history and culture that is entwined with food. After 250 weeks of Friday night pizza, Rachel gives her expert opinion on where to get the best pizza in New York.

About Rachel
Rachel is the host of the podcast, They Had Fun, where she talks to real New Yorkers about the most fun they’ve ever had in the city. She’s lived in NYC for 16 years and enjoys fries at the bar, gallery walks, talking to anyone who will listen about why New York is still great, and of course, negronis and pizza on Fridays.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • The best places in New York to get pizza
  • Rachel’s weekly pizza tradition with her husband
  • The history of pizza and it’s place in New York city culture
  • The quote about pizza in the New York Times that helped Rachel and Christa connect and become friends
  • Rachel’s amazing podcast, The Had Fun
  • Why New York City is the greatest city
  • New York’s restaurant scene and supporting restaurants through the pandemic
  • Christa’s favorite childhood memory about pizza

Links to resources:

creativity

A visit to NYC’s Merchant’s House Museum

Me and Ashley at the Merchant’s House Museum and the Tredwell family photos and bios

Last night I had a blast taking a ghost tour of the Merchant’s House Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan led by one of best and dearest friends, Ashley Semrick. She was, as always, incredible. A fellow tour guide who is responsible for me taking the NYC tour guide exam (which is a grueling 4 hours long!), we always nerd out about the incredible history of our city. Her dedication to the museum, a vital piece of NYC history, is a gift to all of us.

Built in 1832, the house in the only building in NYC that is landmarked on the federal, state, and city level, inside and out. When you enter, you are literally stepping back in time into the 19th century. The house is perfectly preserved with the original furniture and furnishings, personal belongings, books, artwork, dishes, kitchenware, piano, and even their clothes!

The house was occupied by the Tredwells, a wealthy merchant family, and their four Irish servants from1835-1865, when the mercantile seaport of New York City emerged as a growing metropolis and the commercial emporium of America. In 1865, just as the Civil War was drawing to a close, the patriarch of the family passed away in the house. Gertrude, the youngest of the 8 children, passed away in the house, in the same bed where she was born, in 1909 at the age 93. And that’s when things really got interesting from a paranormal perspective. 

There have been 100s, perhaps 1000s, of reports of supernatural activity in the house. It is the only museum in the country with a full-time all-volunteer paranormal team that employs impressive technology to capture activity. Though I didn’t see any ghosts on the tour, the house does have an energy to it that has to be experienced. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, a visit is a-must do activity in NYC.  

And the museum needs our help. For 10 years, they’ve been fighting an intense legal battle with a developer who wants to build an 8-story hotel right next to the museum. Engineering experts have said that if that happens, the museum will be rendered unsafe for anyone to enter. To lose this museum and this piece of NYC history would be tragic. With an all-volunteer staff, every dollar you donate and spend on tickets to tours and events goes directly to preserve this stunning space. 

Self-guided and guided tours operate on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The staff is entirely volunteers and they offer numerous events year-round, both in-person and online. Though most aren’t ghost-related and focus on the history of the home, the family, and our city, they all give you an opportunity to walk in the literal footsteps of the Tredwells. 

The holiday season is particularly special as the house is decked out in 19-century Victorian style, just as the Tredwells did for their famous celebrations and parties. There are musical events, readings, and performances. Go to https://merchantshouse.org/visit/ to learn more.

creativity

This is the secret of life

If you get to the end of this story, I’ve got a secret to share with you. The upper left picture is me exactly two years ago right before I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery for early-stage breast cancer. My “Good Trouble” photo. The lower left is me the next morning at sunrise. My “I Survived” photo. The right is my official matriculation photo from the University of Cambridge taken last month as I began my graduate studies there in sustainability leadership. My “A Dream Deferred, but Not Denied” photo.

I have so much empathy for the woman on the left. It was the first time in my life I’d ever been admitted to a hospital and the first time I’d ever had surgery. I was terrified and also determined to be brave and evict cancer from my body.

With surgery I placed my life in someone else’s hands. I told Brian, my therapist, a few days before that I was terrified of surgery because there was no way for me to product manage the operation. He listened patiently, as always, and said, “Honey, you’re talented but even you can’t give yourself surgery. You have to trust someone else. The only way to conquer fear is to run right at it.”

It was a 5-hour tag-teamed procedure to remove all my breast tissue and 37 lymph nodes, and place chest expanders under my chest muscle. 14 months of constant pain later, they were swapped for much comfier implants. I smiled through the prep, thanking the nurses who helped me, determined not to crack.

Before entering the surgical suite that looked like a NASA space station, Dr. Schnabel, my breast surgeon, and Dr. Cohen, my plastic surgeon, visited with me. Dr. Schnabel looked me in the eye and said, “Sweetie, you’ve been stoic through this. It’s okay to have a moment. Then we go into battle.” Good trouble. I wanted to be as brave as John Lewis whom Audrey, my friend Stephanie’s daughter, painted onto my mask. That photo is the last day I had any cancer in my body.

I decided to walk into the surgical suite on my own two feet, even if my only armor was my surgical gown. I was scared and I ran right at it. This was going to be the last day that I had any cancer in my body. My last thought before closing my eyes was I hoped I lived to see the sunrise the next morning.

I have no memory of the surgery. I closed my eyes at NASA and woke up in the cloud of the recovery room. I was told they’d given me just a touch too much fentanyl and my blood pressure took a nosedive. I thought this was hilarious and laughed hysterically. Then I asked for some apple juice. Ah, narcotics.

I was in recovery for a long time and wasn’t admitted to a regular room until the wee hours of the morning. My dear recovery nurse, Esther, ran all over the hospital trying to find me a fresh turkey sandwich. I hadn’t eaten solid food in 24 hours and that plain turkey sandwich was one of the best things I’d ever eaten.

I told her my wish to see the sunrise and she was determined to make it a reality. I watched Harry Potter and munched on my turkey sandwich until daybreak. Maybe it was the drugs but I did feel like a witch with magical powers, as bandaged and bruised as I was.

Esther came back as soon as the sun started to come up. She helped me walk to a corner room where I could see the east river and the first rays of light illuminate my beautiful city. She left me alone to have my moment. I survived.

Back in my room, Dr. Schnabel and Dr. Cohen visited me. When I saw Dr. Schnabel, I cried for the first time. Again she looked me in the eye, two warriors on the other side of this one battle in a series of many more to come in this war. “Sweetie, it won’t always feel like this. You’re going to get to the other side. There’s a whole team of people focused on getting you there.”

I thanked her for saving my life, and she said, “I’m just part of the team. Team Christa.”

A few hours later my friend, Marita, picked me up at the hospital to take me home to where my sister who was graciously waiting for me with my dog, Phin. I had a giant bag of meds and surgical drains hanging out of my body. “How do you feel?” Marita asked once we got into her car. “I lived,” I said. “You did,” she said. “And you will.”

Fast-forward two years after climbing mountain after difficult mountain. That war on cancer was more epic than I ever imagined it would be. I nearly died, twice, from a severe and rare chemo allergy that shut down my lungs. I lost my long wavy hair to chemo and regrew 1940s ringlets. I was badly burned by radiation and completely healed. Now I’ve got new hard-earned boobs the same size as my OG boobs. That day in surgery was the last day there was ever any sign of cancer in my body—two years clear. Dr. Schnabel was right. I did get to the other side and I don’t feel the way I did before my surgery. This journey made me fearless.

When I was first diagnosed, I was just about to hit submit on my graduate school applications for Cambridge and Oxford. Then cancer struck and I had to put those applications away, afraid I may never get to submit them. I would sit in the chemo suite and dream about those far off places, dream that someday I would swap my surgical gown for an academic robe.

In September 2022, that dream happened. I took the train from platform 9 at King’s Cross to Cambridge, my own version of the Hogwarts Express just ¾ of a platform off. I thought about how I had watched Harry Potter’s train chug along on my TV screen in my hospital room two years before.

When I arrived at Cambridge, I dragged by very large bag that felt like a trunk onto the platform. I had myself a good cry in that train station. Here it was—my dream deferred, but not denied.

At my recent appoint to get the all-clear and graduate to annual checkups rather than 6 month checkups, Dr. Schnabel called my healing and this new academic chapter of my life a triumph. The dream became a reality, and I’m beyond grateful to everyone who helped me get here.  

I’ll never get back the life I had before the photos on the left, before cancer and COVID. I mourn the loss of that life. I miss it. But in exchange, I got something better. Environmental pollution was one of the main contributors to my cancer. Now I’m healed and dedicated to healing the planet.

Now for that secret I promised you at the start of this story. Along the way on this painful and difficult journey, I learned the secret of life. It’s love.

To love fiercely and be loved that way in return. To love whom we spend time with, the place we live, and the work we do. To love the planet that gives us everything and asks in return only to persist and continue giving to all of us. To love this life so much that our heart swells with gratitude for every day we’re given, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. To love and honor your time, and the time of others.  That’s it. That’s the secret, and it will transform us and our planet for the better.

Get into good trouble; the planet is counting on us. Survive, and then share your story because your story’s going to save someone else. Even if you have to put some dreams on hold right now, you can still make them happen bit by bit and they’ll be sweeter when you do get there.

Love, this and every moment. That’s the only secret there is, and the only work we really have to do.

creativity

Another hopeful cancer milestone

Today I graduated from 6 month exams with my breast surgeon to 1 year exams. Being 2 years cancer-free is a huge milestone because the risk of recurrence drops significantly.

I’m so grateful to my medical team at NYU Langone Health, friends, and family who helped me restore my health. Celebrating today and every day.

If you or someone you love is facing cancer, please know there are millions of us out here with stories of triumph, resilience, and renewal. We may get knocked down but we can rise stronger, braver, wiser, and healthier with more love and more compassion than ever.

This is my story and it can be yours, too. Eyes up. Keep going.

creativity

Join me on Literati to talk about Elektra with the Joseph Campbell Foundation

Elektra by Jennifer Saint

In November I’m facilitating a month-long discussion about the book Elektra by Jennifer Saint on the Literati app for the Joseph Campbell Foundation Myth & Meaning book club. This will be an exciting reading adventure. 

Authors of new books rooted in mythology are asking fascinating questions of classic stories and providing provocative answers. Jennifer Saint’s glittering retelling of the classic tale Elektra is a brilliant example. 
 
 She showcases forgotten women of Greek mythology, ties that bind them to one another, and betrayals that threaten to sever those ties forever. With alternating chapters from their perspectives, Saint gives us a front row seat to their psyches as they grapple with a family legacy entangled with an ancient curse.

Vivid and evocative descriptions from page one carry us away into their tale of rebellion, revenge, and redemption where no one escapes unscathed and everyone is utterly transformed.

Throughout November, I’ll be posting some thoughts about the book as we read it together over the month. This is a highly interactive experience, and I’m excited to read and learn with all of you. 

I hope you’ll join me. To sign up, hop on over to the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s Myth & Meaning book club on Literati. The cost is $22 / month if billed annually and $26 if you pay monthly. It includes the book shipped to your address.

A special thank you to Torri Yates-Orr and John Bucher for bringing me into the Editorial Advisory Group. I’m honored to join such a fantastic group of thinkers and myth devotees.