Matter Gathering 2018

I am a huge fan of personalization. If there is a way I can tweak art or food or a setting in order for it to be more appealing to a particular someone, I like to do so. I sometimes add details like, “loathes cilantro,” or “favorite color is hot pink…” to the notes in my contacts folder so I can remind myself of my friend’s and acquaintance's idiosyncrasies. I mean, why not?!

I was lucky to meet Greg Fuson when he was just starting a conference called Matter. More a gathering of open-hearted souls than a true conference, Matter speakers and attendees are engaged in all kinds of unconventional creating: everything from Hip Hop Architecture Camp, which uses rap to introduce and educate minority students to urban design, to creative advocacy work for the prevention of extremism, to a highly successful urban clemency project to public art installations and shenanigans and on and on. More than anything, Matter highlights people who are aiming to start right where they are to increase the amount of good in the world. Greg finds people who have their heads down and are all in, working to create more peace, more love, more forward momentum in communities both large and small. He invites them to speak at or attend Matter, and I make them name tags. 

Yes, name tags. Every conference needs them! Because Matter focuses on how we humans can do life better—with more care and concern for each other—we aim to extend that thinking into allaspects of the Matter experience. So, we start with the name tags. 

The first Matter gathering was in a log cabin on the grounds of the Presidio in San Francisco. Think: earthy goodness with damp air, live music, art, books, and quirky, inspiring speakers. Greg and I wanted the name tags and conference booklets to be extensions of this vibe, so I came up with a plan to hand letter each Matter attendee’s name in charcoal on very thin plywood sheets. We thought this was a nice, woodsy-earthy, west coasty style without veering into summer camp crafts territory. I also made San Francisco inspired art for the space (above the fireplace) and hand-painted the cover of each conference booklet. It was awesome and I felt sad when the last cover was finished as I enjoyed the process so very much. 

But the biggest lovefest for me was creating text for the back of each name tag. We wanted the personalized, customized, bespoke vibe of Matter to be loud and clear right off the bat. So, for the first Matter gathering, I took it upon myself to write an original poem or haiku, a micro essay, or find a quotable quote for each name tag. I researched (stalked?) each attendee online, gathering information to inform my writing. Sometimes I used their actual name as a writing prompt, sometimes their vocation, sometimes a cute photo I found on one of their social media sites. I used anything and everything to come up with words for each person. It was so hardand so fun! Here are some samples:

For someone named Lyda…

As you may well know, according to internet name knowledge, Lyda is said to mean “small winged one who is loved by the people.” For the next two days, we here at Matter are your people and we will love you. Perchance that love will inspire you to feel winged! 

We hope so.

For an architect named Frances…

We thought you, Frances the person, might enjoy knowing that there also exists The Frances Building*. Said structure has a bit of a history (as we assume you do) in that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built long before you were constructed, the 1911 Frances includes a “passage” through which one entered a theatre which—brace yourself—showed “moving pictures.” We know that you and your namesake building have both been through much and yet here you remain: intact, functional, and noteworthy. Frances the person, we salute you! 

(*It is in Portland. You probably know that.)

For a Paul…

The transformative power of Pauls is truly remarkable. 

Consider this short list of some of your fellow name bearers…

Paul the apostle: went from super bad to super rad. 

   (Albeit, depending on your theology.) 

Paul Cézanne: launched art into a whole new
world of 20th century goodness. 

   (Albeit, depending on your taste in art.)

Paul Revere: saved the day/country. 

   (Albeit, depending on your allegiances.)

Paul Johnson: Out of everything else you could be
doing, you are at Matter. 

   (Albeit, nothing! You have made a great choice!)

And for a Kate…

Kate could have chosen to hibernate,

But instead she came to cultivate!

Kate could have chosen to dissipate,

But she is here to authenticate!

Kate came to congregate, associate, concentrate, percolate and ruminate because...

quite simply: Kate is great.

By the time I finished hand lettering everyone’s first and last name, sanding down all the rough edges of the birch tags and writing some hopefully funny/inspiring/intriguing words for and about each individual, I had fallen completely in love with this group of strangers! It was weird and also not. Love arises in a multitude of ways and for me, it comes easily via art and writing. I’m prone to romantic musing about anything at almost anytime, so when given a list of actual, real live people to make art and writing for, well, I was a goner from the word go. The name tags and art were a big hit and I am so lucky and grateful to have Matter in my life.