When last we spoke, we had just come up with a list of questions, a blueprint for our interview with Ann. And just before we begin, I'm just going to talk about, I've been talking to you guys about not being afraid to look like an idiot. And during the break people have been coming up and asking me, when you're interviewing like, you know in startup you were interviewing this big time investor on the street did you really where your headphones? Yes, I was wearing my headphones! (laughter) Every interview I have been wearing my headphones. I'm going to do it right now so that you can see. I put this on, just so you can see these are sort of the industry standard, Sony MDR 7057506, sort of like, every single person in audio recording wears. And I'm not a gear head, I actually, most of the equipment that I ever used was supplied by public radio. And when I went and started my own company I had to actually buy my own equipment and I didn't know what to buy. So I went on this website called...
Transom, transom.org. It's a really great resource for people who are interested in learning about, they have a great gear guide and I just bought what they told me to buy. So this is a recorder, this is a task cam DR 100 MK2. Right there, that's what I use. It's got a little flash recorder, I plug in my headphones, I have a condenser mic, which is the Audiotechnica 8035, it's a little boom mic that I use as well and this is just a standard XLR cable, plug it in here and then it goes in here, and I'm ready to go. Alright and then I just make sure my inputs are set right, I make sure that everything is on the way it's supposed to be on, speakers off, lingers off alright. And then I just turn it on, always important to turn your recorder on, this is a pro tip. (laughter) And then I press record and I just adjust my levels here, I do the input here and I get it so that it's peaking right around where it's supposed to be peaking. Alright, and then I'm gonna get a little bit of level so my voice is coming across okay. Then I want to just get some level from Ann, and then we are ready to begin. So Ann, tell me again your name and what you do.
Ann Rea, and I'm a contemporary landscape painter and one day a week I mentor artists on business and marketing, all around the world.
Alright, okay, awesome. Her levels are good so now we're up and running. This is how I look when I'm doing these interviews. I'm walking around, I've got cords hanging everywhere, I look like a freak and that's just the way it is. The more comfortable you get with that the better it's gonna be. Ann, can you scoot a little bit closer to me?
This is something that I always try to do is to get people a little bit closer so that it can be, and notice we're sitting side by side, and then when I talk you want to have this microphone about four inches below the person's mouth when they're talking, that's how I record. This is how I've recorded everything on the start up podcast, it's been with this rig. Doing this, looking like this. Every time I'm talking to my wife, this is what I'm wearing. Sexy! (laughter) Okay so usually I put both headphones on but I'm going to keep one off just so that I can hear what's going on out there. Alright, are you guys excited to begin? We're gonna start with, I want to start you here, so we're here to talk about your life. And your life an as artist and your sort of evolution from, sort of, you know, how you came to be where you are today. I want to go back to the very beginning and just talk to me about, were you artistic as a kid? You know, tell me about that, tell me about what kind of kid you were.
Very, very shy. Which I know people who know me don't believe. I was very, very shy and I loved art. It was a refuge, it was a wonderful refuge.
Do you have a memory of first discovering that you loved art?
I don't have a particular memory of discovering that I loved art, but I do have one particular memory where I was playing where I was playing with a friend. I was probably about four, five and I was very proud of something I had just colored. And I held it up and I said, I'm an artist. And she said, no you're not. And I said, oh yes I am! (laughter) I just remember making that really strong connection with that identity. I thought no, this is actually pretty good, I don't know what you're talking about.
Where did that come from, do you think?
I don't know.
At four or five, did you know a lot of artists?
No, I didn't know any, there were no artists in my family, no.
Do you think when you said that as a kid, do you think you had a sense of what that meant?
I knew I just felt that I was telling the truth. That was absurd that I was not an artist, yes I am. I just remember being really righteous at four or five about the whole thing. (laughter)
Like, I am an artist! Was it like that at four?
I don't know how I sounded when I was four but it was just, yes I am.
Yeah, right, and so that was at four. And did this just continue when you were a kid, when you were growing up? Talk to me more about the evolution as you got older.
I think I as always, it was like one area where I was acknowledged and it was one area that was, I have to say I was often bored in school but making art was a never ending challenge. You can never completely master it, so it just had me.
You said it was the one area where you got recognition, talk about that, what do you mean?
I don't really remember and shining, specific moments but I do know though that I was identified as, oh she's a really good artist. I surprised people with it, it surprised people that I could draw that well.
Like what do you mean? Like who did you surprise, do you remember?
I think my teachers, I remember that we would draw, what was his name? That donkey, I actually did that when I was really little. (laughter) There's a little cartoon that you're supposed to draw, you're supposed to copy and you send it away. You'll get a scholarship to art school, I actually did that when I was really, really young. It was a whole scam but anyway I did it. (laughter)
Wait, talk about the monkey.
It was a donkey, you had to draw some donkey.
This was in the back of a magazine or something?
It was like in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It was like that, it was, yeah.
So you'd be flipping through the pages and there'd be a spread.
Yeah there was this ad, if you draw this donkey and you do it perfectly well then you're going to get a scholarship to art school. And it was some commercial art school, it was just all a scam but I did it.
And did you win the scholarship?
They called my house and I was very little. And I think my mother said, you know, she's eight. She's not ready to go to your commercial art school. (laughter)
But you got in to art school at eight. You can say that you got in to art school at eight.
Oh, I did actually, yeah! (laughter) Yeah I did, yeah.
Do you remember a specific piece that like, where you were like, this was one that you were really proud of? Like do you remember that?
No not so much when I was little. I think when I started, I do remember the first. The first painting that I did after not painting for almost a decade. I definitely still have that painting.
Okay, we'll get to that.
We'll get to that later, yeah. But that was, I didn't have a single moment of recognition. I was very self critical and I was a perfectionist. Which kills creativity entirely. So I don't think I even enjoyed being talented because I was so critical and such a perfectionist that it just sucked the joy out of it.
How did that manifest?
I just thought nothing was good enough. Like, nothing's good enough, ever.
And like, but like, so I'm thinking of like, eight year old Ann, like so you're in your room. Where did you do your art? Did you have like a setup in your room?
In my room or at a friend's house or in school. All the art teachers took notice of me, I remember that. I can remember bonding with all of the art teachers.
What did they say to you?
They would just tell me I was talented and encourage me. I just felt their class was more interesting than the others.
Did you feel like a connection with the art teachers? That you didn't feel with other teachers?
I suppose I did, yeah. I was bored a lot in school with other subjects. So I felt like this was a real challenge. This was really hard, making art. (laughter)
It's not just coloring inside the lines.
No, it wasn't just drawing that donkey, no.
What do you think you were trying to express as an eight year old artist? What were the feelings you were trying to express?
Gosh, I haven't thought about that. I think I was just trying to be really good at something. I was trying to master something. And that was it. I just remember wanting to be good at it. Really good at it.
It was your thing.
Yeah, it was my thing.
Do you remember... What was your genre?
What was your medium at eight, yeah.
Crayola. (laughter) I had an etch-a-sketch from Ohio Art, I had, I loved this thing, it's like a spin art thing? It spun around and you squeezed this, and it made, I just loved that thing. I loved my Lite Brite, I loved my Lit Brite very much. I just loved color, I was just really enamored with color. And drawing, yeah.
Would you say the majority of your work at eight was like Lite Brite or crayon? (laughter)
That's a good question.
Or were you more mixed media?
Mixed Media, yeah.
And did, so then, so it sounds like you were the kind of kid that it was sort of obvious you were gonna go to art school.
Yeah, it was.
Like everybody knew?
I think so, I think so.
How did your parents feel about it? Were they like encouraging of it or were they like worried about it? How did they factor in?
I don't think they were too keen on the whole idea. I think they encouraged me to some degree but it's not known as a big money maker. I'm a first generation American and there's some expectation, you better, like you know, we came over here so you better do something. And the fact is most people go to art school and they graduate and they never really do it. They have to go do something else. And so that's the reality.
Yeah, and nobody knows that better than an immigrant family. Like my wife is also sort of like from a first generation immigrant family. And like, yeah it's very hard to come here. And then like your kids are gonna not make any money?
And now what are you going to do?
Yeah, we've come to the land of opportunity and riches for you to like you know not do anything.
Was it that sort of thing?
Yeah that's how I felt, some of that. Definitely I felt some of that.
But they didn't stop you.
No they didn't, they didn't stop me, no.
Where are they from, by the way?
England, Liverpool. Hey Liverpool! (laughter)
So even in this early time, you literally you don't have a memory of the first piece you were proud of? You don't have any memory of any of the work you were creating around this time?
No I remember a neighbor, I had a neighbor. Nancy Bellgrave was her name. I loved her house because everything matched. I was very irritated by our mixed match towel set, there was no design aesthetic that came, but this neighbor had it and I just thought, oh, look! If I looked at it now it might be kind of wonky, but she poured so much thought and love in to everything, like every accessory. And it was just so beautiful, I just loved it. And she really encouraged me. She just thought, oh my gosh you're so talented. And I thought, no you're talented, look at your towel set and things. (laughter) It was just a different environment. I thought, oh that's what I want. I want that kind of care and consideration. I loved it.
Oh, interesting. And so she was the one you showed a lot of your work to?
Yeah I did, actually, I did.
And would she etch and sketch?
No she would just encourage me, she gave me art supplies actually. Now that I think about it, I just thought about that. Yeah she would give me art supplies.
Oh, so you're parents didn't, weren't, she was the one she gave you, was this like Lite Brite period or was this like later?
This was post ten free Lite Brite. I still like Lite Brite. It'd like a giant Lite Brite. Like the size of this room I think that would be awesome. (laughter)
A Lite Brite, what is it again?
Lite Brite is you put this black piece of paper over a light bulb and then you take these colored pegs and you poke them through the paper and then the light comes through and illuminates these colored pegs. You can make a flower or you could make a sun, or a bumblebee. Whatever, a wave, whatever you can construct with this grid system of illuminated color.
Which is kind of what I'm in to now. (laughter) It informs my current work.
I still remember the Lite Brite theme song.
Yeah, making it, what is it?
Making things with.
No, making things with light. It was really lame, yeah. (laughter)
I'm going to pause here, I'm going to talk to my producer. So what do you guys, I'm going to move on from section one, but like out of that, like, of the things that we were talking about what are the things that stand out to you? What were the moments that sort of like, what do you remember, just going back? What do you remember that she said? Just talk about, list it out. Yeah, Patricia?
I was really happy when you asked her about her family's reactions to her art because it sets it up for later when she's gonna make a break and think about money and art. I was pleased with that.
What do you remember though? Yeah, so that part, excellent, what else? What else do you remember? Yeah, Rodney, what do you remember?
For me particularly I liked the nostalgic moments. The things that she talked about, they toys. Because I remember every single one of them.
The Lite Brite, yeah.
The Lite Brite and the wheel, the paper down the ink, I love all that stuff so.
Oh so you had one of those, too? (laughter)
Willow, what stands out to you?
The moment when she's four, when she's like, I'm an artist! That, I think, has to be part of it.
Right, what about you?
She leads with, art is a refuge. She may be too young but she's already using those words. It's an, I'm escaping.
Right, right, Nancy what did you remember?
I liked how she recalled an influence that she hadn't thought of for a long time. I thought that was a great probe.
Right, I think, yeah what about you?
I liked the levity, I think it's a good setup. Especially kind of developing that relationship because it's about to get pretty rough. (laughter) It's good to develop that kind of connection at first.
Yeah, no it's true, and I think. We'll move on, I'm just wondering if other people, like yeah, because the ones that stood out, I think the moments that sort of stood out to me were sort of the neighbor and sort of like the encouraging like sort of like you just think, that felt like a sort of a very live moment. And then something around the toys and sort of like what you worked in, the Crayola, the Lite Brite, something like that. Yeah, anyway, Christie yeah.
From a technical point of view, you asked the same question two or three times. A little different way. Do you remember you did that? When you did that, that's when the magic of the next door neighbor came out. Which, I was like, that was so brilliant. Because it got her, you asked in a non-threatening enough way that she was able to tangentially respond.
Exactly, that's right. I hadn't even really thought about that but I was trying to get like, you know she didn't remember a lot of the specifics. So a lot of the stuff that was up here she didn't remember and like if people don't remember the specifics there's not much you can do but I was just trying to get something that is, like the art is a refuge, that's the point that you're making. But if you just say it, you want to attach to something. You want to attach to a memory or you want to attach to a story, something like that. And so I feel like that thought can be attached to either one of those. The crayon story or the neighbor story.
Her house was a refuge. Because it was so beautiful in my eyes.
And it had like, it sounds like that house was sort of the first place you discovered -
Aesthetics. Actually it was the first place I was like, this woman has a mindful aesthetic and it's very important to her. And it's an expression of how she cared for her family and the environment they lived in.
Wow, she had quite an impact on you.
She did, I'll have to go look her up. (laughter) Yeah, yeah.
Alright so I'm just going to put my headphones back on and move on. Alright so tell me about the guy you met.
My neighbor, well he was tall and handsome and charming. And I was alone in Dayton, Ohio. So when I saw that he was my neighbor I was quite happy.
When did you see that he was your neighbor?
I think it was like the day after I moved in, I met him. It was only four unit building so it was easy to meet him. He lived across from my apartment.
Do you remember the actual moment?
Yeah, I actually remember the moment. I was getting out of my car and he was getting out of his car and he came and introduced himself. And I just thought, wow, that's my neighbor? That's nice. (laughter)
How long did it take from that moment to the moment that you were dating?
Not long, yeah.
Yeah, and then was it, had you, was it love at first sight?
No it was lust at first sight.
An important distinction.
What is the distinction, do you think?
That's a great, profound question. One is hormonal, and I think one is more heartfelt. You have to know someone to actually love them. Where you can lust after someone you don't know.
That's a huge question, I hope I answered that adequately, wow. (laughter)
So did you, so he was easy on the eyes, you met him.
He was charming.
He was charming?
How were his aesthetics? (laughter)
Not that good. But you know, he was open to coaching in that area. So I had somebody I could work with there.
And did you work with him?
Yeah and he actually did recognize the aesthetics, he had no background in art whatsoever and no interest and that was okay. But he recognized the difference.
And how did he think about you being an artist?
I think he thought it was interesting but I don't think he thought deeply about it, to tell you the truth.
Why do you think that?
Because he didn't think deeply. (laughter) Well, not often, he had his moments, he was just kind of, that's a whole other conversation.
Right, right. How soon after you met, how quickly did you get married?
Two years later.
Okay and by the time you were married, did you know the thing about him thinking deeply?
I wasn't thinking deeply at that time in my life.
That's not my question.
What was your question again?
Did you know the thing about him not thinking deeply?
Was I conscious of it? No.
Were you unconscious of it?
I was definitely unconscious or I wouldn't have married him. And I wouldn't have made some of the decisions I made. I was definitely unconscious. I was very young and I didn't have the benefit of great, wise mentors. So it took me some time to learn some things about life.
So it was sort of like a standard, like you thought this was something that, like this was a cute guy, he liked you.
He was nice enough, and he checked all the boxes that I thought he should check. And my family thought he should check.
When you got married was there, what were the emotions?
I loved him but the truth is we both came from abusive, alcoholic families. So we were not really operating from the best instructions on how to form a healthy relationship. Because you don't have healthy relationships in alcoholic families. So we were starting out at a disadvantage. Both of us, in fairness to him and in fairness to me. We just didn't, we weren't conscious of certain things. We were like, our norm was unhealthy, let's put it that way.
So the healthy you, what did that norm look like? From a healthy perspective, what was that norm?
What would a healthy norm be?
Give me a sense, give some visibility in to what that norm was. Like what do you mean? The norm that for you felt normal but wouldn't.
Oh, okay, so just holding in feelings. Holding in feelings, first of all we're English. So that's right there, okay. We're not exactly known for, I looked to my Italian neighbors because they expressed themselves and they had better food. (laughter) A lot better food. So being able to identify emotions and express them in a way that was respectful and healthy and clear that was not something in our toolbox. And art was a way, at least, for me to express my emotion. Silently.
Right, in keeping with tradition.
In keeping with the stiff upper lip.
Right, uh huh. Alright so, but the, was it a dysfunctional relationship? I guess what I'm trying to figure out, in the first sort of blush, you guys are getting married, you've been together for a couple of years. You're newlyweds. Is your relationship, would you call that, was it dysfunctional at the time or was it, you were just sort of like blind to the issues?
Well I don't think it, it didn't feel dysfunctional. And then it definitely became clearly, evidently dysfunctional. If I had to look back on it today I would say, here's a red flag, here's a red flag, here's a red flag. But I didn't know what those red flags were then. I didn't grow up in that environment.
What were the red flags that you would've seen now that you didn't see then?
So one thing is, when someone, the only emotion that was free flowing was anger. So typically when you've repressed all of your emotions that's the one that comes popping out. That's a red flag, right? So that was one thing, I saw little glimmers of that in him and it just got worse as he felt more pressure to make money and pay for our mortgage and just all that. Adult life setting in, responsibilities.
It would just come out more and more as anger?
So talk about the move to California. What was that, what were you thinking, why did you guys decide to move to California?
Well I didn't want to stay in Ohio. Again, no offense to Ohio. I had started working for a design firm and had taken a business trip and I landed in San Francisco and I stayed at the Meadowood Resort in St. Helena. So I was like like, well I've gotta live here. I was just smitten.
St. Helena that's in Napa Valley?
It's in Napa, yeah, it's this beautiful resort. We had wine tasting lessons every night and we ate flowers in our salad, I remember that. It was like, there's a flower in my salad, not just iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, right? It was just beautiful. And he had traveled, and also didn't want to stay. So we took a map out of the United States and we looked for cities that were by water and we just marked them and said, we'll figure out which one of these we're going to move to. And then he started looking for a job, and I started looking for a job. And he was first to find a job, in San Francisco. So we were like, good, that's where we're going. That's it.
And that seems like, you were okay with that, right?
Oh yeah, I was really looking forward to it. Because I had already been to San Francisco and I just thought it was a wonderful place.
So this was really a exciting time.
How did it feel, like did it, how did that excitement manifest? Did you act differently around the time you were about to move? Do you remember packing up the car?
Yeah definitely, because I had a Honda CRX. Which is this tiny, tiny car. And my ex husband is six foot five. And we packed all our stuff in it, and we didn't know what to do with our fish. His name is Mr. Fish, and we brought him on the road trip. He was in the middle between us, Mr. Fish. We photographed him on the Great Salt Lake Flat. (laughter) And different places along the ride across the country. So Mr. Fish followed us.
Yeah, it was fun, it was really fun.
Mr. Fish was probably like, on the Great Salt Flats he was probably like, what am I doing here? (laughter)
We didn't put him on, we kept him in his bowl.
No, I know. (laughter) And if you had to describe your state of mind at that point, like as you're driving with your fish and you're going to see all these sights. Describe your feeling at that time.
I was happy and I felt free and all grown up. Just embarking on a new life, a whole new life. So I was really happy and hopeful and thought I was going to go live the dream. Because I was going to California, and that's what you do there, right?
What were you looking for?
I think just to be happy in whatever form that took. Happy with each other, happy with ourselves. Whatever happy means, it's different for everybody.
I guess that suggests that you weren't happy where you were, is that true?
I did not, when I was growing up I didn't want to live in Ohio. I didn't want to, I wondered why my parents came all the way from England and came to, like all the choices, right? I understand why they did but I just thought, there are so many other really interesting places and I want to go explore them. I don't want to be stuck here because I went to high school with a lot of people who, their aspirations, the girls right, they're aspiration was to get married and have children. And maybe work as a cashier at the grocery store. And that's what they were aiming for. And I thought, this isn't going to work for me. This program is not working. But that was, that was it. It was a very middle class neighborhood, like town.
Why do you think you felt like that and other people in your town didn't feel that way?
Well I think maybe because of my father's example. He and my mother, they left England to try something new. It was still relatively war torn and taxes were very high so even if you worked really hard you're gonna get taxed and there's not a lot of incentives to, at that time, to succeed and so I think, that was my example. To strike out and go where you want to go. And I had this fantasy about California like a lot of people in the mid west do.
Right and your parents had a fantasy about the United States and they ended up in Parma. And you had a fantasy about California.
Yeah, actually I never thought about it that way. There's some definite parallels. That make me want to cry. (laughter)
Alex Blumberg is the CEO and co-founder, along with Matt Lieber, of Gimlet Media. Before Gimlet, he was a radio journalist at This American Life and the co-founder, along with Adam Davidson, of the This American Life/NPR co-production Planet Money.
The best storytelling resource I've come across bar none. I've read all the books, paid for all the online courses, listened to all the podcasts but for me none have been anywhere near as useful, engaging, moving, fun and outright inspiring as this course. If you're trying to tell stories with factual material, whatever your medium, this is as good as it gets.
Regarding those reviewers saying it was haphazard and underprepared - huh? He doesn't offer strict formulas and perfectly structured, detailed approaches, but that's because he's the real deal. Those things only exist for snake-oil-merchant online "story gurus" who charge through the nose for "the perfect strategy" (*cough* Patrick Moreau *cough*). Alex offers what he can of tricks and formulae, but where it's about experience and gut feelings, he's honest. Thank god.
This class is great on multiple levels. Are you interested in interviewing? There are great tips and techniques. Interested in Storytelling? Great insights into the basic structures and tools to test how compelling your story idea is. Interested in podcasting? Great tips and ideas here too... Alex is a seasoned pro, has an easy, approachable style and allows his class (and you) time to really consider and work through the concepts. Excellent all the way around!