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From Issue #17 May 23, 2013

Editor’s Note

Wake up, drink up, and dress up.

By Glenn Fleishman Twitter icon App.net icon 

Reap what you sew

My wife, Lynn, tried to persuade me years ago to watch Project Runway, the reality-television show that’s now passed 11 seasons, plus specials and spinoffs. Lynn’s mother and aunt were raised learning how to make anything they wanted to wear, not out of financial necessity — Lynn’s grandparents owned the big house on the hill in a small town in Pennsylvania — but for self-reliance. Lynn’s grandmother took her two daughters into town to examine the latest fashions, and then to the fabric store to obtain supplies. My mother-in-law still sews. She made fabulous vests for my two boys when Lynn’s brother married a few years back.

(A few months before the wedding, Lynn was in Connecticut helping her parents move close to us in Washington State. I was driving my fellows somewhere; they were then 2 and 4. I asked if they were excited about the upcoming nuptials, and what did they want to wear? “Dresses!” was the response. I kept a straight face as a caring and open dad of the 21st century; dresses are much more interesting than suits! “What would you like on your dresses?” “John Deere!” “Fire engines!” Marvelous. Their vests, from fabric they chose, ultimately depicted butterflies for one and a variety of firefighting scenes for the other.)

I was a bit dubious about reality TV in general. I’d watched four seasons of Survivor a few years before, and enjoyed aspects of it, but it relied too much on guile for my taste, and not enough on intelligence and cooperation. But I gave Project Runway a chance, and was enthralled. It appealed to my geeky side, because so much detail was required to make clothing well, including hand skills, spatial visualization, and at least an intuitive grasp of math.

My background is in graphic design, and I saw in Tim Gunn a close match to my college mentors, notably John Gambell, who could help you find your voice through critique. They always expected the most from you, but the best of them didn’t tear you down in the process. Even the judging process was largely based on merit and on the specifics where, as in graphic design, commerce and aesthetics meet. You can love a design, but if it’s impossible to make, that’s a problem if the client wants you to produce 1,000 or a million of them. We watched a few seasons’ worth and went back to watch the first (in which one contestant mistakenly thought cut-throat Survivor tactics made sense).

This all came back reading Erin McKean’s “A Ribbon Runs Through It,” in which she explains how she constantly and gladly answers questions about her wardrobe. She makes her own dresses, and that is sufficiently unique — even amidst the crafty/homely revival of knitting, chicken-raising, and other arts in urban environments — to prompt compliments and queries wherever she goes.

Erin delights in learning how to make the image in her head match the work she produces, as well as in learning to make something she’s happy to wear. She has no interest in being on Project Runway: too much stress, so little time, and no useful outcome for her career, as she’s presently involved in an online startup company. She loves to sew. She loves to make dresses. And each dress becomes a new story she can tell on request.

Get to work

My younger son, Rex, will say, “Hey!” I will reply, in the invariable pattern of parents who think they are funny, “Hay is for horses!” He quickly learned the rejoinder: “Not that kind of hay!”

If you’re Ben Bajarin, you mean it literally. Get up early before work with Ben, while his wife and daughters are sleeping, as he handles the chores on their hobby farm before changing into his office outfit and heading in to the analysis mines to look at tech-industry data for his firm’s clients.

Ben says, “The iPhone Is My Midwife,” a conclusion he drew after helping his first pregnant goat give birth. In an early draft of the story, Ben had the kid birthing further down. I wrote, “Start with the goat!” Ben is planning to write a book with that title. He kids.

After such exertions and a day of work, why not sit down to a nice meal and a glass of wine? Our wine steward today is Sandra Allen, an editor and a graduate of the University of Iowa’s M.F.A. program in nonfiction writing. Having spent some time in that fair state, she wonders if you’ve considered a “Cunning Old Fox” with dinner? Sandra tells us about the massive growth in wineries in the United States, many of them relying on native American grapes and hybrids, and a competition designed to help them improve. It’s a romp through history, from Leif Erikson’s Vinland to New Zealand in the 1970s, and a lesson in expectations being overturned again and again.

When you’ve kicked a bottle or two, ask your pilot to fly you to the Central Valley of California, where there’s a landing strip at the Harris Ranch. In “Meet the Meat,” Colleen Hubbard has a reservation for us at the Jockey Club, one of the three restaurants that, combined, serve 2,000 people a day cheek-to-rump against the largest cattle feedlot in North America.

After such a long meal and trip, it’s hard to sleep. Stay up all night, and head to Ace’s in San Francisco, but not until at least 6 a.m., its specially licensed opening time, intended for graveyard-shift workers. Matthew Latkiewicz, a fellow who claims extensive experience with alcohol, invites us to tag along to “6 a.m. Bars,” where he wonders why some kinds of pre-noon drinking are fine, but not this one.

I need a nap.

Read all about it

And Read All Over” had some of the broadest response of any article that we’ve run, especially when author Jamelle Bouie put it on his own site a month after it was available to The Magazine subscribers.

Jamelle writes to let us know that he and some of his friends have started Journos of Color (on Twitter as @journosofcolor), a site to highlight writing and journalism from people of color. This should help editors, including me, who are looking for varied voices and aren’t always sure where to find them. They welcome link submissions, too.

Glenn Fleishman is the editor and publisher of The Magazine, hosts the podcast The New Disruptors, and is one of the writers of the Economist's Babbage blog. The father of two, Glenn won two episodes of Jeopardy! in 2012, and he won't let you forget it.

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