My first experience receiving fan mail didn't come in droves and sackfuls. It was one simple letter. I still remember opening it to find a clipping of a previous column I had written for the North Dakota Living magazine with a brief note scrawled on the backside.
I'm not sure exactly what it said, but the few sentences from a North Dakotan mother gave me immeasurable amounts of validation. The most rewarding part was that my personality came through in my writing. She got my sense of humor and my message stretched across the state.
That connection has been what I've been searching for ever since. Every classic American novel I've read and New Yorker article define the words I use and how I write today, and I dream of having the same impact on readers. On their own, words belong to no one, but when used right, they define who we are.
The words listed below define who I am. They are standards to live by and heights to reach for. They govern over how I do work and guide my pursuit of writing meaningful stories about interesting people.
The whole point of life is to make connections whether synaptic, experiential or relational. Sometimes, all three happen at once. I look back at my travels abroad as clusters of these connections that continue to define who I am. The experiences I've had in Haiti, Japan, and Russia consist of a series of random dots. Every day I make sense of another section of the resulting picture.
One of my first memories abroad was riding though the capital of Haiti in the bed of a pickup truck. Sitting on top of our team’s luggage, I had a 360-degree view of the passage we made through the earthquake-stricken city. The smell of exhaust and garbage was unforgettable.
Despite the grief and unimaginable hardship I witnessed, it was the joy that stood out. The joy of crossing cultural and language barriers to make real connections. The joy of helping people in desperate need and the gratitude they expressed. These memories of compassion still guide me today and challenge me to really understand other people’s struggles.
In the same year, I spent the summer in Tokyo, Japan on a cultural exchange program funded by a scholarship from Kikkoman Corp. I remember an insightful teacher there stating something to the effect of, “memory purifies all.” He was right. The time I spent in Tokyo with my host family, fellow American exchange students, and the new Japanese friends I made feels like something out of a dream.
While it’s hard to boil down my experiences into one anecdotal story, the subway seems like a good place to start. On the first day of school in Tokyo my host mother guided me to the train station and helped me through the hour-long voyage that brought me to the heart of the city - Shibuya. She spoke very minimal English so I had to soak in every train transfer and journey through the station to learn how to get there.
On the trip back home, I was challenged to go the journey alone. I inevitably got turned around and had to ask strangers for help. After a near nervous-breakdown, I finally found my way. As my first time using public transit in a major city, Tokyo was indeed a challenge. It was one that I overcame by making simple connections with people.
I’m still digesting my most recent travel experience to Russia. It was another summer I spent abroad before starting college. This time I was with a language program funded by the State Department. I can’t remember exactly what inspired me to choose Russia, but I remember recognizing the dark intrigue of the country in myself.
Despite the political tensions between Russia and the U.S., I felt nothing but acceptance from the people who hosted me in Russia. Their kindness taught me more about the country than I could have ever read in a textbook. My motivation to learn the difficult language was fueled by the desire to get to know them on a deeper level.
I consider the keepsakes I brought home from each of these trips to be my most prized possessions. They represent the abundance of connections I made and fuel a desire for more. They remind me both of how insignificant I am and how significant I can truly be through the eyes of other people.
I used to loathe household chores. The thought of my parents telling me to do the dishes or take out the trash would cause me to feel instantly overwhelmed. Despite my mom’s instructions, my room as a kid went without being vacuumed for years and my closet was an avalanche waiting to happen.
My outlook on cleaning today is a different story because of two factors. The first is my job as a bartender downtown. Cleaning up after other people all day and night makes it just a littler easier to pick up after myself. The other factor is a recent move that is catapulting my buying habits into domestic realms.
Just as with any new habit, whether positive or negative, there is a need for money. It may be an unplanned purchase that results in healthy behaviors like a new water bottle, or it can be a chronic purchase that is influenced by an addiction like smoking. Whatever habit it may, none are immune to change, especially the habits that develop at early-adulthood.
I remember vividly the first purchase that kickstarted my infatuation with shopping for clothes. It was with my sister at the mall in seventh grade. I was every advertiser’s dream; a young consumer with disposable money and the potential to engrain branding deeply within my development. My love for clothes is stronger than ever, but I have a growing amount of other responsibilities that balance out my checkbook in a more adult direction.
Instead of only worrying about the fun things in life, I have new things to budget for. To keep my positive habits moving in the right direction I need the necessary tools. Each new product I use and brand I explore represents a similar opportunity for corporations like my first clothes shopping experience. Except this time, efficiency and price rule over everything else.
Understanding how development influences purchasing habits could have a profound impact on the way people buy things. Adulthood doesn’t have to be boring. With the help of brands who understand the demographics they are appealing to, cleaning could become every young adult’s next passion.
I’ve been enthralled with developing brands since I can remember. From a coffee shop to pet store, I began to play with the idea of starting my own business at a young age. While the type of businesses varied considerably, the location was always the same. The building I imagined my businesses in is located on Main Street of my hometown. It was built by my great-great-great grandpa who ran a mercantile inside.
While the building has held a range of different businesses since it first opened its doors, the stories my great grandma told me as a kid have formulated a defined image of what it might have been like. At first, my plans were to change the building completely and bring it into the modern age. But now, I’m inspired by how it once was.
The only evidence I have of how the mercantile once looked are black and white photos and a mahogany cigar display case that once sat in the store and I inherited. However, my imagination runs wild when thinking about every inch of how it once was. With a frontier feel, I imagine the wooden space filled to the brim with canned goods, handyman tools, wide-brimmed hats and suspenders.
A mercantile revival is the basis for yet another idea I’ve had about how to repurpose the space. This time around, with an appreciation for the storied history, I am exploring my interest of craft brews. Imagine stepping back in time to 1900 and sitting down to a cold, local brew.
I gained an appreciation for all things craft from growing up as a farm kid, but I never really learned what it meant until I moved away for college. The occasional trips I took back home to visit family were like revelations. From the acre garden in our backyard where we grow nearly all the produce we need for the year, to little update projects around the house, I learned the value of DIY.
At the heart of MERC Co, the name I’ve given to my historic mercantile taproom concept, is this idea of start-to-finish craftsmanship. My head runs wild with the possibilities for branding, decor, and experiences that could be created in the space. And that’s what keeps me dreaming-the possibilities.
My style defines who I am both personally and professionally. From the fields of the farm I grew up on to the sidewalks of downtown Fargo, I’ve got the perfect outfit for any occasion. Whether I’m just walking a few blocks to work or going out with friends, I can never get enough of unlocking the key to a killer combination of clothes from my closet.
It might seem strange at first to think about how my personal style relates to my professional career, but at the heart of what I wear are strong, defining experiences. Just like the job experiences listed on my resume, each piece of clothing I own can be traced back to pivotal moments in my life.
One such moment, while long past, remains as a vivid memory in my mind. My great grandma Annabelle’s house was like a museum to be explored and enjoyed. I can still remember the contents of every room, from the pool table in the basement to the bright red leather chair in the living room.
But the memory that sticks with me most is one of the walk-in closet just off her bedroom upstairs. Inside, the closet was overflowing with glamorous outfits in every color-except yellow which she hated. I can still remember how inconceivable it was that someone had lived such a storied and stylish life.
It’s profound to think about how one woman impacted my entire life even after she left this world. The same could be said about the women who are still in my life, most notably my grandma and my mom. Both have been making decisions for me about my style in the form of gifts for so long it’s impossible to distinguish what I’ve chosen and what they have chosen for me.
My mom has been nudging me towards a cool, preppy style that focuses on simplicity. From the few suits I own to the backpack I wear daily, my style owes a lot to her. And my grandma who defined my style best as a champagne taste on a beer budget, allows me to live my style dreams. While I can’t describe each and every way they’ve impacted my style, it’s humbling to know that I’m the result of my predecessors, and I’ll never forget that.
I’m obsessed with brands because of their universality. Each moment of my life is imprinted by the ideas of companies I engage with. Every product defines me, from the shoes I put on in the morning, to the car I drive, and even the notebook I sketch in. These choices are all a unique curation of my life and personality.
I take pride in the choices I make. I have a favorite coffee shop and a lucky yellow brush. I spend outrageous amounts on cologne just to smell nice. As much as I’d like to blame it all on the culture I grew up in, one that sells an ideal image of life, I actually adore the constant battle uphill to further my personal taste in clothes, beer, moisturizer, and countless other products.
If one day I disappeared and all that remained were my material possessions, I bet that a random stranger could discern a few things about who I was. But at the same time, some of the products in my life are there for no other reason but chance. Even still, some of the brands I associate with were chosen for me.
One of the strongest brand associations I have is with Chevrolet. I'm obsessed with the precision of luxury cars, but when it comes to mainstream consumer cars there's no room for any other names but Chevy. It's interesting to think about though, because I inherited this taste from my parents. While I may have moved away from the farm I grew up on, I carry the rugged ideals that I grew up on down every road I drive.
Next to the notes I take everyday for class, I'm often doodling, making thought maps, designing logos or just drawing random lines and shapes. I admire Moleskin's simple but durable design and I have a whole shelf of past notebooks I've filled up. Looking back at past notebooks is like getting a glimpse into my thoughts at the time. It's the perfect conduit for containing my studious thoughts and furthering my design inspirations.
One of the most recent brands I've delved head-first into is Jordan. I'm not much of an athlete, and couldn't make a free-throw if my life depended on it, but I can't deny my affection for Jordan. There's an undeniable sneaker-culture behind the brand that has been built upon years of ambitious designs from Jordan. I identify with the 'athleisure' concept of blending practicality and comfort with striking lines, textures, and patterns.
This is only the beginning. I could go on about brands for days, from my own concepts to what brands I couldn't live without. Expect a lot more posts about brands in future blog posts.