Last week, when the weather warmed up for a bit, I was walking downtown and I was inspired! New ideas for the blog came to mind, as it always happens when I spontaneously walk into places and talk to people. After a short stop at home and a quick message to my friend Matthew Cowan, I was back out, camera in hand.
I’d like to introduce you to the newest section of the Re-Discover Washington Blog, called “Live, Work & Play Downtown.” As the title suggests, it will feature people who live, work and spend their free time in the downtown area, giving you a glimpse into their life through words and pictures. Below is the very first interview with Matt!
How long have you lived downtown?
Since October 2013. Before that I lived with family in an old house between Union and Washington.
Why did you decide to move to downtown Washington?
I’d been saving up to buy a house, hoping I’d meet somebody and we’d be able to start a life together. Last year I just got tired of waiting and I took a huge, 6000 mile trip west to Seattle and California to visit family I hadn’t seen since I was very young, stopping at many beautiful places along the way. I was very excited to take some photos of the sunset at a place called Sunset Bay in Oregon – but it was really cold and too cloudy the day I got there. I still waited for the sunset, but just staying there waiting for the clouds to break didn’t make anything special happen. That mirrored what was going on in my life – I’d been living and working in a small room, and the bed was next to the desk. I had no place to get away from work, and also no place where I could focus exclusively on work. Between that experience and a conversation I had with my cousin Mahria in Seattle, I knew I had to stop waiting for the clouds to break and make some sunlight by myself.
“Thinking life will be better in the future is stupid, I have to live now” is a quote by one of my favorite graphic designers, Stefan Sagmeister. I began taking that to heart. There was no reason for me to make myself unhappy, sacrificing for something that wasn’t guaranteed to come along. Sometimes I hear people talk about staying at jobs they hate or thinking life will be perfect once they meet someone or move to a different city and I just wish I could get across to them that they’ve only got this one brief life. This is it, you’re making the memories you’ll have for the rest of your life right now, so make the most of where you are now.
So when I got back I saw a post on Facebook about the Farmer’s Market apartment: river views, 3 rooms, within stumbling distance of the Old Dutch, and for a lot less money than I’d have to pay in St. Louis for the same type of place. I wound up making the appointment to see it and signing the lease the same day.
Now I have an office seperate from the bedroom for the first time in my career, a bedroom that isn’t cluttered up by work documents, and a room where I can get away from all of the monitors and just go have coffee and read a book or write. It was a fantastic decision to move here.
What do you do and do you like working from home?
I design and develop websites. I currently have 3 large projects requiring continuous work, and I also take smaller jobs like designing email templates or updating someone’s existing website. I am constantly busy (or procrastinating), and if someone new contacts me for work, it may be a month or more before I time clears and I can start on their project. I’m upfront about that, which means I lose jobs I would love. I was tremendously disappointed to not have time for a potential client recently. However, keeping existing clients happy is my priority, and I can’t do a good job for them or for a new client if I am working on too many things. I would rather grow strong relationships than to grow too quickly.
I don’t always work from home – 2 or 3 days a week I leave my office and go where the client works. It’s easier for me to communicate with them face to face, or share a screen the old fashioned way (having them look at it and point at what they don’t like). On one of my projects, though, I’m working with some designers who all live a little bit away – and we’ve started using Google Hangouts to share screens, which works just as well as staring over someone’s shoulder (and sometimes even better because there’s not actually anybody staring over your shoulder). I love working from home. It is nice to get out of bed, take a shower & make coffee, and then sit down at my desk without having to dress up or drive somewhere. It’s very comfortable, and I can set my own schedule – so, if it’s a nice afternoon, I can go running or just enjoy the day, and then work at night. Also, if I’m having a rough day (or maybe even a good one) there’s no one on Earth who can stop me from going out and getting ice cream. Web design is something that I could do from anywhere, and there are a lot of jobs like that now because of the internet. Starting a business is hard, but it’s also incredibly easy now because you don’t need a huge amount of capital or a storefront to begin – with the internet you’re not bound by the customer base in your geographic location. If you can find something you enjoy that other people are willing to pay for, you can open a shop from home and do business over the world. It’s an exciting time to be doing something creative. I heard a line in a song last year about how “the world’s getting smaller as the universe expands.” I believe that to be true in many ways.
What are some of the advantages of living downtown?
The people are definitely the strength of downtown for me, even though I’m a very private person and don’t actually talk to many people. I have some good friends downtown and it’s nice to be able to walk over and see them, or to have a drink somewhere without having to worry about how I’ll get home. It’s also cool to randomly run into people I know. Sometimes it’s also nice to run into people I don’t know. The first time it snowed here I walked around downtown, taking pictures of things. I ran into some guy named Clarence (It might actually have been Terence, but I remember the name as Clarence because of the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) and he asked me to pray with him in the middle of the street that the Calvin Theatre would fall into the hands of people who could restore it. I’m not very religious, but it was a cool moment. A few weeks later he randomly showed up at my apartment and we had coffee and talked for a bit, and have a deeply intellectual conversation about photography, calligraphy, relationships, life, and everything else.
Also, I love the river. I usually wake up as the sun is rising over the bridge and I don’t even have to get up – I can just lay in bed and enjoy it, thinking about my dreams for a few minutes before I start my day. It’s also very calming to see the water flowing by when I look away from a difficult problem – the views in the winter when the blocks of ice are floating by and dancing with the current can be quite beautiful.
If you could change/add something to downtown Washington, what would it be?
There’s a lot to do in the spring, summer, summer, and fall, and most of those events are outdoors. It would be nice to have an indoor venue that regularly held events downtown in all seasons, but especially in winter. The Calvin Theatre would be ideal. It would be great if they could host original local music, and not just bands playing cover songs. This is becoming a very detailed wish, but I would love it if they could bring in St. Louis bands like Sleepy Kitty, Kentucky Knife Fight, and Pokey LaFarge. It would also be nice to have a grocery store. When I moved in during the fall, it was so nice to be able to walk downstairs and get fresh vegetables from the Farmers’ Market. I know it will be nice in the spring and summer, too. But it would be quite wonderful to be able to walk a few blocks if I needed limes or salt or margarita mix.
Anything else you would like to add.
One of my friends, Jeff Brown, was valedictorian of my class in high school and opened his speech by telling a story of a monk that had the job of sitting outside of town and welcoming visitors. The first visitor came up to him and asked “I’m thinking of moving here, how are the people in this town?” The monk asked, “how are people in the town where you come from?” The visitor replied “Oh, they’re wonderful people, and I’m sorry to leave them.” The monk replied “Well, then you’re in luck, the people are like that here, too.” A short time later, a second visitor came to the monk. “I’m thinking of moving here, how are the people in this town?” he asked. The monk asked, “how are people in the town where you come from?” The visitor replied “Oh, they’re incredibly boring, and they gossip, and I don’t like them very much.” The monk replied “Well, I’m sorry, but people are like that here, too.”
There are a lot of different opinions of this town held by the people who live here and grew up here. Sometimes I can be talking to someone who has a different opinion of the town, and it’s not even like we’re talking about the same place. A lot of places can be great or horrible depending how you view them in your own mind. I just really like Washington now.