At the moment, I don’t have a job. The government has been shut down, and with it my job at the Library of Congress. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to pick up some part time work here and there with a few friends, to help make ends meet. I know I shouldn’t say it, but it has actually been kind of rejuvenating to scramble and brainstorm outside of the “permanent” job mentality that I supposedly have. It’s sounding pretty unlikely that I will be paid when the Federal Government re-opens, and it’s not really even clear at this point when it will re-open. Meanwhile there is a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, and not a whole lot of wiggle room in our budget, or savings to speak of. But we’ll scrape by, like everyone else in the same boat.
But this post isn’t about the shutdown, and it’s not really about me. It’s about a startup, and it’s about my wife Kesa.
Kesa and I met at a startup in New York City in 2000. It was a magical time. We were helping start a business from the ground up, living in a truly amazing city, in a tiny one room apartment that barely fit us and our bookcase…and we were falling in love. We lived in Brooklyn, but our office was in downtown Manhattan, just off Wall Street, and a few blocks from the World Trade Center.
9/11 was an explosive, searing light that annihilated and destroyed…but somehow it also briefly illuminated delicate, evanescent, and commonplace things, making them easier to see. Most of all, the events of 9/11 made me acutely conscious of how important every day I had with Kesa was. One evening later that year I made Italian Wedding Soup for dinner, and asked her if she wanted to get married. She said yes. I think she liked the soup too.
Around that same time Kesa also decided to return to teaching. She had applied for a job in the Brooklyn Public School system and heard back the morning of September the 11th. I guess the day crystallized some things for her too. She remembered her experience teaching K-3rd grade kids how to read in New Orleans. She remembered what it felt like to help make the world a better place, one student at a time, instead of working her butt off to make some software better, that would (maybe) give some big corporations a competitive edge over some other big corporations, so they could sell more widgets. She inspired me in a way that I needed to be inspired, as our country slipped into pointless retaliation, and war.
Over the last 13 years, Kesa has largely been doing just that: teaching 5th grade in Brooklyn, Chicago and here in Washington DC. She took some time off to be with our kids when they were born, but she went back each time. Her philosophy as a teacher has always been to understand each student for their uniqueness. Don’t get me wrong, she is big into the academics; but at the end of the day, it was about connecting with the kids, and seeing them happy and thriving together. The times I went to her class I got to see the evidence of that first hand.
When Maeve (#3!) was born Kesa decided to give something else a try. She started tutoring kids in the neighborhood to see if she could help make ends meet that way. Somewhere along the way the math and reading transitioned to sewing and other crafts. She had caught the makers bug like millions of other people around the country, who are trying to reconnect our culture. She got talking to people like David and Lina Brunton who are trying to bootstrap a farm outside Annapolis, MD. The kids she taught got a real kick out of learning to make their own pajamas, bags and pillows…unwittingly they encouraged her to do more, and to think a bit bigger. She felt like she was onto something.
So in May of this year Kesa went to Baltimore to register the business Freehands Craft Studio. She found an inexpensive space to rent on the 2nd floor of a strip mall near our house in Silver Spring. The photo to the right was taken when she was painting the walls in the new space. I like it because it captures how earnest she was (and still is) about getting Freehands off the ground.
I watched as she networked on neighborhood discussion lists, talked to friends, and friends of friends, and somehow pulled together a small group of teachers with specialties in knitting, paper making, quilting, sewing, jewelry making and collage. Freehands had a few exploratory classes over the summer to figure out logistics, and this fall the classes started in full swing. Last weekend they were at the Silver Spring Mini Maker’s Faire where they demonstrated how to quickly make reusable lunch sacks, and answered questions for 5 hours from tons of people who were interested in what Freehands was doing.
So Kesa is working at a startup again. But this time it’s her startup. As the politicians fight in Congress about how to do their job, it means so much to me to see her building Freehands Craft Studio with her friends. It is a lot of work. I’m having to look after the kids a lot more when she is off teaching a class, or doing outreach of some kind. The startup expenses have set us back a bit more than we expected, and at an awkward time. There’s still a lot more to do to get the business rolling, to build momentum, and let folks outside of our little corner of Silver Spring know about it. But I can tell it’s what Kesa loves doing, because she is smiling when she’s doing it, she gets energy from doing it, the work illuminates her life, and our little family.
So I wrote this post for two people.
It’s for you Kesa. To let you know that even when I grumble about having to rush home to look after the kids, and scrape together a meal and clean up our house so that it doesn’t look like a tornado hit it– in my heart of hearts I’m so proud of you. Your Freehands experiment gives me hope and purpose. You make me happy, just like back when I made that Italian Wedding Soup.
And this post is also for you. There’s no better time to start things up as when other people are shutting things down right? Take some time to consider or remember what you want to start up. It can just be a side project for now. Who knows what it will grow into?
Oh, and if you want to help Kesa and Freehands Craft Studio please consider donating to their Indiegogo campaign, or sharing information about it with others using your social-media-platform-of-choice. There’s only about a day left, and they could really use your help. You can get a little mug or a reusable lunch sack or handmade card as a thank you … and you will become part of this little dream too.