As a creative and professional writer, I jumped at the opportunity to conduct a series of interviews for the Yestermorrow Design/Build School. I’m an outsider to the discipline, but I’ve heard enough about Yestermorrow’s philosophy to know their talking points, and I knew from their instructors’ resumes that they practiced what they preached. My sister is an architect, and we have conversations about sustainability and public interest and principles of design every time we get together. You know what it’s like with architects – those things tend to come up.
The assignment was to interview a few former students, an instructor, and a client to write a piece on Yestermorrow’s Public Interest Design/Build summer class. I thought I knew what to expect. I sat down and made my first phone call.
A half hour later, I had thrown aside my prepared list of questions completely, and was just trying to keep up. I’d never spoken before to someone so passionate or so willing to share their story. I typed furiously, intent on capturing as much as possible.
The second interview was the same. So was the third. So was the fourth. It was incredible.
The stories were different. Vastly different, in fact. I spoke to an architect, a city councilwoman, a furniture builder, an event planner, a grad student, an art teacher, an entrepreneur. Creatives, organizers, dabblers, life-long seekers. Leaders, teachers, students, learners, builders. East coast, west coast, Midwest. Second generation immigrant, local, out of state. Men and women, young and old. Eloquent, quiet, headstrong, shy, observant, effusive.
At the center of this web of stories was a shared itch they couldn’t seem to scratch. And from that locus came other commonalities – other links and other overlaps: a choice, a risk, two weeks in Vermont, a changed life.
They told me about their pre-Yestermorrow restlessness. A woman trying to break into a male-dominated industry, studying under a sexist teacher in a class full of men. A practitioner-in-training with no opportunities to work with her hands, stuck in a theory-heavy class. A rebel tired of his school’s rigid design philosophy with nowhere to go to learn to break the rules. A thinker without the confidence to voice her ideas. A teacher sick of seeing a community ignore its own people’s housing needs.
Eventually, their restlessness grew intolerable, and they were led to the Mad River Valley in Vermont, where they found Yestermorrow.
Each of them made a choice, and that choice is what I knew I had to write about.
Each of them, when given the opportunity, took an incredible, beautiful risk. Maybe he packed up and moved across the country to attend a two-week summer course in a state he had never visited. Maybe when faced with the possibility of yet another male-dominated classroom, she came in on the first day with her head held high. Maybe upon finding himself a novice in a room full of expert builders, he spoke up and voiced an idea that would take a project in a new direction. Maybe she got her hands dirty for the first time, hammering nails and standing at dawn and noon and dusk in the mud.
And for each of them, their bravery was met with a place ready to receive it. She found a diverse class full of students from every discipline, men and women, eager to work together. He found his out-of-the-box ideas accepted easily and happily by the veteran builders. She found people ready to work for a community they had never lived in, and people to help pick splinters out of each other’s fingers and hands. A group ready to push back on ideas that wouldn’t work. People with whom to succeed and fail. A team. The empowerment found in finishing a project that a week before she would have said was impossible.
A task that was impossible, a week ago.
I sat back and looked at the web of stories in its scope and intricacy, and from examining it I have this to tell you.
If you have ever felt restless, act on it. Jump in with both feet, knowing there are others to catch you if only you look. Know there’s a safe space for you to learn and push boundaries and take the risks you need to take to grow. Know that you’re not alone in your desire for change. Know you can accomplish things you never thought you could.
I have evidence now.
I looked around at my room thinking about the stories I had heard, and thought maybe there’s some restlessness in me, too. Maybe I’m tired of just thinking about things. I looked back at my notes.
If you’ve ever felt what these people felt – what I’m beginning to feel – come to Yestermorrow. Take a class. Add to the web. Who knows – maybe I’ll see you there.