June 14, 2013, Washington, DC: Maybe painters see their living space as a canvas and actors picture it as a stage. The writer in me views home as a massive editing project. If home is someplace ripe for self-expression, it’s also a constant work-in-progress.
Photo Credit: Canden Schwantes
This is one in a series featuring our city neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.
April 24, 2013, Washington, DC: Washington tour guide Canden Schwantes is living proof that Capitol Hill is not all senators, congressman and politicos. She may spend her days telling stories of great American history on the National Mall, but at the end of the day, she returns home to a neighborhood on the northeast side of the city where the narrative is very much happening in the present day. It’s a place where grills and guitars are dragged out onto the sidewalk for impromptu block parties, where children publish their poetry and adults make music.
Canden is at home among many creative types who live just off the H Street corridor of Capitol Hill; in addition to being a tour guide, she’s also a writer whose first book, “Wicked Georgetown: Scoundrels, Sinner and Spies” is due out next month. I first heard about her when I learned of Literary Hill BookFest, a neighborhood festival coming up May 5th at Eastern Market, where Canden will be debuting her work. Right away, I thought the local authors featured at the festival might make for good additions to Neighborhood Nomads — not only because they’re my neighbors, but because they’re people who know a thing or two about the role a strong setting can play in telling a good story.
Read on for an interview with Canden Schwantes about the neighborhoods of Washington, both past and present.
This is one in a series of interviews featuring people invested in our homes, our neighborhoods and the power of place. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.
February 27, 2013, Washington, DC: Making a deliberate decision to change where and how you live can make a world of difference. Campbell Gerrish knows this firsthand, both personally and professionally. We worked together more than decade ago as co-leaders guiding a summer backcountry trip for teenagers throughout British Columbia, hiking long days, pitching tents, cooking dinner and sleeping soundly in our down sleeping bags. In the mornings, we’d pack up all of our belongings, heave our tents, utensils, clothes, food, pots and pans onto our backs, and move on. All that we needed we carried with us. What we packed in, we packed out.
It was serendipitous that Campbell called a few weeks ago from his home in Bozeman, Montana, the very day after the Traveler of the Year event that had prompted me to so vividly recall that afternoon pictured above in BC’s Stein Valley. Campbell and I hadn’t talked in four years, but as we caught up, it was clear we shared a continuing interest in examining where and how we live, shaped largely by our experiences in wilderness living. Living in a tent in the backcountry with just the bare necessities will change you. It will change the way you think about home and it will remind you that your exterior living space is intricately tied to your inner well being.
“It’s interesting to articulate because it’s such an intuitive thing to me,” Campbell said. “The way we live in our environment reflects our state of mind. So if I live in a room that is covered in tons of crap and I let all my papers pile up, if I live in a space that is cluttered and messy and disorganized, that reflects what I’m like inside. For me, if I let my living space get out of hand, I feel I’m not being disciplined in my thinking, I’ve got some loose ends going on.”
“My space reflects the life I’ve lived so far, and it’s filled with stuff that has been with me for years, stuff that reminds me of where I’ve traveled, who I’ve loved, and where I want to go next.” -Nate Berkus
February 23, 2013, Washington, DC: Our home reminds me of travel, partly due to the things we’ve brought with us but also due to its bones, its structure and its details. I see New Orleans in the back alley from a narrow, second-story balcony abutting the next and feel cross breezes coming off San Francisco Bay through the high windows that swing open above the apartment’s inner door frames. Its imperfect hardwood floors and outdated stove and big old window that needs a book wedged in to stay open in spring are fit for a beach cottage. Walking out the front door to pick up cheese or yogurt or meat around the corner at Eastern Market is a routine that feels a bit Parisian.
February 5, 2013, Washington, DC: I had an hour or so to spare this evening in Dupont Circle. Instead of returning straight home from work, I walked across the Taft Bridge over Rock Creek Park, wandering south down Connecticut Ave. and settling in for a latte at a large farm table in Dolcezza Dupont. It’s a gift to have an hour to spare in an inviting coffee shop, whether in my own city or one that’s entirely foreign. Even at home, those slow and steady moments make me feel like I’m traveling.
After the sun set, I trekked through Dupont, stopping in out of the D.C. winter for a quick dinner and a peek in Kramerbooks. From there, I made my way south of the circle to National Geographic to attend tonight’s Travelers of the Year event, featuring our own Neighborhood Nomad Booker Mitchell. Booker and three fellow Travelers of the Year gathered in celebration of the very things we value here on Neighborhood Nomads: they spoke of exploration and observation, of seeing their surroundings with fresh eyes. The tagline on the enormous screen behind them read, “These passionate nomads inspire us to take on the world.”
The featured travelers at tonight’s event spoke of their travels far from home: Paula Busey spoke of her lasting friendship with Maasai warrior Samwel Melami in Tanzania; Heather Greenwood Davis of her family’s decision to take her children out of school for a year to trot the globe; Booker of his perspective as a traveling teenager on a skateboard; and Theron Humphrey of his road trip across America photographing the beauty of the everyday. But what I found remarkable was that the conversation repeatedly circled back to thoughts about neighborhood and home, and to the influence that the far and wide can have all that is very close by.
“We really wanted to show these kids that the world was their neighborhood,” Davis said.
“You can be a traveler in your own city, even,” Booker said, returning to a topic we’d discussed together a few months ago. Whether due to taking a new route, noticing a change in the sunlight, or listening to a different song in transit, he added, “Skating to school every morning, nothing’s ever the same.”
Isn’t it interesting how travel enables us to zoom in on the tiniest details and come away with a deeper appreciation of the big picture? Of negatively perceived locales Davis visited along the way, she said: “The closer you get to them, the more you realize that they’re only that frightening from far away.”
That remark seems true of our own neighborhoods as well as the far-flung destinations we visit so rarely. And I could relate to Humphrey when he explained that those close and careful observations collected while traveling have paid off: “I pointed my camera at what I love,” he said. “I fell in love with life this past year.”
The power of place is indeed transformative, whether that place is a remote beach in Costa Rica or a cold and crowded Dupont Circle.
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January 7, 2013, Washington, DC: Country music played on the radio and the clean white lines of the Memorial Bridge stretched over the Potomac River at low tide as I snaked alongside it Saturday morning and wound my way up Rock Creek Park. I was on my way to say goodbye to a friend moving to New York City, where a fresh start in a new city would await. Something about those moments of transition, whether mine or someone else’s, make me nostalgic and appreciative and sharpen my senses all at once. The city looked truly alive that morning — bright and happy and healthy. It looked and felt well, better than ever, and the feeling was magnified given that I felt well too. After spending several days buried under the deep fog of flu, I was finally ready to emerge and embrace the New Year.
Early January is a natural time to take stock of our wellness. With a fresh beginning upon us, we are full of resolve to be well and happy and healthy in the days ahead. For me, that includes taking note of how our homes, neighborhoods and cities impact on our own well-being. Does where you live make you feel good? Do your surroundings provide you with what you need to feel mentally, physically and emotionally well? Do you fill your home with elements that make you feel healthy and happy and dispose of those that ail you? Do you seek out places that facilitate a healthy lifestyle? And have you ever packed your bags certain the remedy was someplace else?
January 5, 2013, Washington, DC: Husband and I received an amazing present this Christmas in Connecticut: a retro Crosley record player. We joyfully snapped it up like an old-fashioned suitcase and carried it back home to Washington on the train. Before we left my parent’s house, though, we ventured downstairs into the basement and sifted through boxes upon boxes of old records. They’re planning to ship dozens of their albums to our apartment as part of the gift.
Until I saw all those old albums covers, I’d forgotten what a potent role music had once played in my home. Continue reading