So, How Was Your Day?
Banana and yoghurt. Cappuccino.
Made-just-now slaw with cabbage, Brussel sprouts, dried cranberries, red onion, walnuts, mayo, mustard, red wine vinegar.
Gnocchi with butternut squash and gorgonzola sauce. Glass of Montepulciano.
I woke at 6AM for my 7AM morning yoga class. When the alarm goes off I remind myself: “you will feel better later”. Today, after 10 years of practice, I finally balance in crow pose! I bike pretty much everywhere, even in winter. So after class, I huff it up two hills and glide down one to get to my office in Park Slope. I convince myself that a cappuccino wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing, so I run to my favorite spot around the corner and then sit myself down to read through emails. I get paid to interview people and document their stories. At 10 o’clock I head to a meeting with the director of the Harpswell Foundation, a non-profit that works to increase education for young women in Cambodia. They hired us to produce a short film to share their incredible work with potential donors. The director, Alan Lightman, hands me some “field footage” from their last trip to the women’s dorm they built in Phnom Penh. I say I’ll be in touch when we have the second draft ready for review.
I’m crazy obsessed with good food. Lunch could be my religion. I usually just bring raw ingredients – one handful of walnuts, an entire bunch of kale, whole tomatoes, a hunk of cheese. It’s never really planned in advance, although people swear it must be. The pantry with olive oil, salt, lemons and vinegar makes most things possible. Today, Fitz joins me for lunch. We talk about the difference between Southern men and men from the North East (Fitz is from Savannah and his gentlemanly ways always astound me).
On my way uptown, I stop briefly at Sur la Table to pick up 5 cake boxes. I’ve got a few orders for my sweet/savory speciality, “My French-Italian Boyfriend.” At 8 o’clock, I take a seat in the lecture hall at the Jewish Cultural Center in Manhattan. A fair number of families have asked us to record their grandparents’ stories of surviving the Holocaust. I try to attend events, listen to talks, and watch films that help me better understand Jewish culture and history. Great Q & A with the speaker. I’m starving by 9PM, so head across the street for a quick dinner of gnocchi with butternut squash and gorgonzola sauce. Check FB. Check the NYTimes on my phone. Check personal emails. C train to the F. Home by 11. Sneak in with my honey.
Three Last Things…
1. What’s up with those beautiful guns? Any tips on getting sleek arms like yours?
You’re so sweet. I think it might be a combination of a regular yoga practice and muscle memory. I rowed in high school and college and swam for six years (year-round) between fourth and ninth grades. Butterfly was my stroke! Today, I commute to work by bike and practice yoga 1-2 times a week. I wish it was more, to be honest. I think chaturanga might be the real secret.
2. A cake and film maker? You have to share the evolution of your careers.
Well, my first love was folklore. “What the hell is that?” you say. Folklore is basically anthropology combined with oral history. So human expression on a micro, narrative level. I also studied Scandinavian Studies and Women Studies in college. While being totally fascinated by others, I guess I wanted to deeply get to know myself. I’m Scandinavian decent and, well…a woman! In college, I worked as an assistant folklorist at the Wisconsin Arts Board for three years. That job was designed for a graduate student, but I had moxie and at age 18, I was determined that I was exactly who they needed. I got the job. I conducted fieldwork with esteemed Wisconsin folk artists for three years, including a Buddhist monk who made mandalas, a Jewish needleworker and tapestry designer, a Norwegian woodcarving couple. After college, I traveled around the world for a year and volunteered in Ghana and India. I saved $10,000 for that trip, and I used every last penny. Seriously, I came home with 15 cents in my pocket! I quickly got a job in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as the Director of a YWCA program for at-risk gay youth. I loved those boa-wearing, tatted-up teenagers to pieces, but I also knew that small town life wasn’t for me. While figuring that out, I landed a taxing job as a political field organizer for Fair Wisconsin, a marriage equality campaign (we lost the campaign for marriage equality then, but look who’s winning now?!) In 2006, I came to New York City for Thanksgiving. With no strings attached, I decided to stay. I was lost but hopeful, so I went back to my folkloric roots. I got in touch with the urban folklorist who heads City Lore, Steve Zeitlin. Boy, was I lucky to meet him! Steve was avuncular and inspiring. Under his wing, I began editing radio and video documentaries for City Lore’s City of Memory project. In 2008, I made a BIG decision to study documentary radio at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. After graduating from Salt, I weaseled my way into an internship at WNYC and after that, they hired me as an assistant producer. In 2011, I founded StoryKeep, a production company for families. Lisa Madison joined me shortly thereafter and we’ve been going since. Alongside StoryKeep, my latest endeavor is co-hosting a Brooklyn daily (live!) TV show called BK Live. Oh, and yes, I make gourmet cakes for order. Cakes were really so random. I made 10 cakes for my birthday one year and people went NUTS. They wanted to order them, so about twice a month, I get creative and make the best damn cakes money could buy.
What have I learned? I’ve learned that everyone makes it up as they go. Nobody knows what they’re doing until they are actually doing it. I had two StoryKeep clients before I even knew what the final delivery presentation would be! The first year of StoryKeep business was super challenging. My advice: have good friends or a life partner to be there to listen when you need to vent or brainstorm or cry.
The other thing I’ve learned is this: you can’t fake the core. Those are Cheryl Strayed’s words. By which she means, you aren’t gonna get away from yourself. If you are listening to your heart even a tiny bit, you know what you need to do. The heart is soft-spoken, but it is patient and diligent. If you think you know what you need to do, remember what Goethe said: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
3. Since lunch is your religion and all, can you give another quickie lunch recipe?
Toast. Ricotta. Beets you roasted and thinly sliced last night. Open-face sandwich that and drizzle some olive oil, sea salt and honey on it. Maybe some walnut pieces, too? Go to town!
Jamie lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the owner of StoryKeep, a production company that specializes in creating personal documentaries, oral histories and heirloom books. Her passion is interviewing and getting great stories out into the world. She hosts a daily, live TV show twice a week, but when she’s not in conversation, she’s an avid cook and occasionally bakes gourmet cakes for order. jamieyuenger.com