What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Hannah Stephenson?

I have strong memories of making tapes in my childhood home on Hope Avenue. We had a large stereo/record player/tape player in our living room, and shelves of records. I remember looking through the records — The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Joni Mitchell were my favorites (For the Roses had a beautiful cover, so serene, and I was shocked when I opened it to find an image of Joni, naked, shot from behind).

My mom or dad would get me set up by plugging in the microphone and giving me a blank tape. I would have a list of ideas for songs (usually the titles, which I’d sometimes brainstorm beforehand with my dad). I’d announce the name of each song, and then “sing” it. My “technique” was usually to repeat the title of the song over and over, with a little variation here and there. “White Swan” is the most memorable song (and the title track, apparently) of the tape that still remains. I must have been about five or six. The song goes a little something like this: “White swan……..white swannnnnnn…..white swan white swan white swan whiteswanwhiteswanwhiteswanwhiteswan…….white swan swimming in the pool. With a duck.”

I loved making the percussion noises (usually imitating a drum set — “pssshew psssshhhew pssssh ting!”). I remember thinking I sounded just like the drums.

In the background of this tape, you can hear my sister, Mara, running through the room and making airplane noises, and then you hear me yelling at her: “MARA, I’m recording!!! GO AWAY! MOMMM!!!!” I seemed to take it very seriously (sorry, Mara!).

Other hits from that tape include “Blue Mermaids in the Sea,” “Cute Little Baby Puppy,” “Anything You Want,” “Some People Come From Hawaii” (the lyrics of this one explain that “Some people come from Hawaii…..some people come from New York…..some people come from Tahiti……some people come from Ohio”).

I’ve always loved music, and remember drawing pictures of some of the singers I liked (which, oddly, included Bette Midler and Weird Al, who I invited to my seventh birthday party). We had family friends who would make us mix tapes, which I thought were the most incredible inventions.

It’s strange (and slightly embarrassing) to know that I’m still so enthralled with using technology to record my voice. I don’t consider myself a musician or songwriter, but experimenting with sound and music is still a strong interest for me. I love making songs using Garageband, and last year, my husband walked in the bedroom to find me shaking a pepper mill over my laptop–not so different from my preferred White Swan setup! As a poet, I am constantly recording my process, voice, and video (and footage of other poets reading, too).

I’m always asking my writing students to be specific, and move their observations toward analysis by asking, “So what? What does this detail suggest/imply/reveal?” In order to be fair, I’ll ask myself that question now. I think my desire to record comes from the same place as the impulse to keep journals and write poems—I want to store up a feeling or image, and be able to share it or come back to it later. Even if I just end up laughing at my mouth-drum solo.

Hannah Stephenson is a poet, editor, and instructor based in Columbus, Ohio. Her favorite palindrome is either “Yo, banana boy!” or “Ah, a Mayan on a Yamaha!” To read her poems (or say hello), visit her online at www.thestorialist.com.


What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Mary Sharratt?

The first things I made were pictures. I drew obsessively on every scrap of scratch paper. Coloring books were boring—I wanted to make pictures from my imagination, illustrating all my yearnings and dreams. Living in suburbia with no pets, I sketched countless horses with their manes flying. I also drew people—not people I knew, but exotic characters from other places and times. The houses I drew did not in the least resemble the one I lived in. Instead I sketched castles and gothic mansions. When I grew older and learned perspective, I drew the landscapes that these horses, people, and houses belonged to, with roads that vanished off into the distance where mountains rose darkly on the horizon. What lay beyond those mountains?

Alas my artistic skills could not keep pace with my imagination. So I stopped drawing and started writing stories. Words were the wings that could let the images inside my head fly free and finally find their home.

Mary Sharratt is a writer based in Lancashire, England. Her latest book, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Visit her website: www.marysharratt.com.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Antoine Wilson?

The first thing I ever made was a fishhook. I was six, probably. We lived on Lac Saint-Louis, a dilation of the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal. When it wasn’t frozen over or hucking stormy columns of spray across our picture windows, its limpidity allowed a tantalizing view of small fish swimming close to shore. I don’t know where the urge came from—some cultural image? innate murderous instinct?—but I knew as surely as I have ever known anything that I had to catch at least one of those fish.

I found a small nail, squeezed one end into my father’s vise, and hit the other end with a hammer until it bent like a fishhook. My mother inspected it, gave her approval, and helped me tie it to a piece of string, and the string to a stick. For bait, she provided bits of hot dog from the plastic packaging, cut into perfect little disks. (The smell of those hot dogs fresh out of the package is like Proust’s madeleine to me; it takes me back, immediately and involuntarily, to Dorval in the 1970s.)

I remember vividly sitting by the edge of the lake, on a little stone wall, hot dog disks at my side, watching the plump goldfish investigate my hook. They were wary at first, but it didn’t take them long to start nibbling away. When they’d devoured the bait, I pierced another piece of hot dog with my hook and dropped it into the water. This cycle continued for the rest of the afternoon.

I caught no fish, of course. My hook was not barbed. At the time, it felt like a failure. But on the few occasions I’ve gone fishing, whether because I was on a boat where someone handed me a rod, or staying as a guest of an avid fisherman, I’ve found myself wishing I were still holding a stick with a string and a bent nail at the end, just hanging out, enjoying the long summer day, sun glimmering on the water, watching fish eat.

-Antoine Wilson is the author of two novels, PANORAMA CITY and THE INTERLOPER. He’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a contributing editor of A Public Space. He grew up in Southern California and continues to live and surf in Los Angeles. He’s online at www.antoinewilson.com and on Twitter @antoinewilson.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Amanda Manitach?

The first thing I remember making dates back to age four. My parents bought me a full size waterbed at that age. They built a wooden frame for it and I climbed inside and made pencil drawings of funny, flower-faced people all over the plywood, underneath where the mattress went. So every time I moved the mattress I’d encounter this bizarro city of people with petals instead of hair and ears.

I always made a lot of publications as a kid—hand-drawn science magazines or mock newspapers pounded out, stream of consciousness style, on one of those newfangled Brother AX-28 typewriters.

I have no idea when I wrote the fairy tale. The syntax is frighteningly similar to how I write today (although, thankfully, I’ve learned to spell a little better),

Finally, I was a nerd and a country girl and wanted very badly to be a naturalist when I grew up, running around with a butterfly net, collecting specimens from tide pools. In hindsight, I think this is a strictly bourgeois, Victorian occupation. I kept illustrated journals of all my fantastically exciting experiments, as all good Victorian schoolmarms do!



Amanda Manitach (www.amandamanitach.com) is a writer and artist based in Seattle, WA. It’s probably pretty obvious that she was homeschooled.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Bill Horist?

Since I spent my teen years in the Eighties of Reagan and AIDS, I’d say that the first thing I made was a mistake. I chalk it up to bad timing. Oh, to be sixteen in 1972 would have been fantastic. That year is emblematic of an era where great innovations and hybridizations were happening the world over in music, and in such incredible proliferation. There were certainly other upheavals too, but man– what was happening with music was truly amazing. Instead, my formative years were spent contemplating the great sexual nadir and skirting the apotheosis of commercial interest in music; favoring instead an underground music that was—despite ample angst and aggression—in retrospect, little more extreme than the vulgate offerings of the day. I have since reconciled the fact that despite my best efforts, I really didn’t have any say in the timing of my birth. What can I say? We move on.

Because my parents are collectors of everything living or otherwise—antique dealers, caretakers of peculiarly fecund animals, and foster parents several times over (our family portrait resembles a Benetton ad from the early nineties), it’s not surprising to have many of one’s early attempts at creation at the ready for presentation and recollection. Their enthusiasm for an increasing liability of too many memories has probably informed my lack of interest in the arms-reach sentimentality of material accrual.

Having recently been back in the Midwest visiting my family, I was afforded the opportunity to visit the museum of my prior enterprises. Mainly for purposes of purging. My brother (22 years younger) was finally departing his childhood home and my parents were vacating this large house for smaller environs. My parents watched, horrified, as I callously opened musty, bug-shorn boxes, assessed a chock-a-block of mementos from the disparate echelons of my seventeen years at home, and then proceeded to dump it all. I live lean. If my environment decreases in size, I purge; if I have less money, I spend less. I aim to be present and future-oriented. I remember what I remember despite the availability of related mementos. These are the things that half the world calls common sense and the other half calls straight-up parsimony.

I unearthed many items from my creative and technical output. Perhaps the oldest was a clay tile the color of a dead lake in winter, glued to a piece of cardboard. Impressed into its surface were rows of dots, the shape of a rabbit, and an assortment of symbols and icons that one might easily find in stamp form, all laid out in some jumble of hieratic sentience that only a child could decipher. There was the puppet from nursery school, a frighteningly bulbous paper maché head with a bird-like protuberance for its nose. The head, whose skin is like rotting leaves in a dried bog, contains one button eye, six strands of vermicious orange yarn for hair that rivals any Jim Henson comb-over, and a barely discernible red crayon mouth. Time has not been good to this little fellow; the back of his head has been bored into by the years and vicissitudes of our atmosphere, revealing the contents of his thoughts—small snatches of language spread across the convolutions of his wrinkled newsprint brain. His noggin is atop a toilet paper roll swathed in rough red fabric and appointed by a frayed, black-and-white striped bow tie knotted in dubious fashion. One fat, lachrymose rivulet of glue wends from his eye and down his face to terminate in various crusty glue spots on his clothing.

Later, my technical skills improved, and I entered that netherworld of burgeoning identity that is only made worse by the unholy name developed to describe its ungainly awkwardness; I had become a TWEEN. I would fashion wondrous creations with stained glass—swords, dragons and other elements of that world relegated to those with no social options: Dungeons and Dragons. I developed an interest in wood shop and made BBQ forks, a lovely cherry salad bowl (still in use) and a napkin holder. This was at a time when we were becoming dimly aware of the differences in the physiology of boys and girls, and the resultant changes that happen to little ladies. That I might reclaim some of the attention directed toward girls and their needs at the time, I boldly declared that my napkin holder was a Masculine Napkin Holder.

Eventually we became the happy owners of a VHS video camera. With it came, of all things, friends! This took all of our creative endeavors into a group atmosphere as we produced deftly crafted video entertainment. Our music videos, lip-synced to the likes of PrinceNight RangerMotley Crüe—replete with drum kits made from Baskin-Robbins ice cream buckets and old political campaign signs for guitars—were, um, well, singular anyway. As were our short films, like the ace bandage-clad slasher classic Summer Vacation (pts I – VII) and the comic-mystery Pink Panther X – where our hapless gumshoe must solve the mystery of the disappearing bandmates of Punk Monk and the Monasteries (soundtrack was the entire “Stay Hungry” record by Twisted Sister).

Even auspicious tween dreams are eventually replaced by teen lust. It was time for a new level of social interaction. The D & D and video cam gave way to skateboards, girls and real punk rock. At fifteen and the height of my completely unremarkable skating career, I was struck by a car. Let me be more precise. I was struck by the car I was IN! Let’s just say alcohol was involved and at one point, I immediately exited the vehicle in order to relieve myself. I slid under the car and the back right tire snapped my femur, giving me a leg with the same number of knuckles as my fingers. It was the resulting inability to ambulate that fostered a need for me to really give vent to expression that wasn’t physical. I began to draw. I began to write. I told our pastor that I didn’t believe in God. I began to think and create and give voice to the more cerebral enterprises that I now hold so dear and vital to my existence. The next several years were occupied drawing and writing, which eventually led to my first band and into my first guitar when our original axe-man left the band to become a monk.

Yet, as I delved through all the objects of my creation—the skull-addled everything, the Psychic TV photocopier art, the early and consistent attempts to create something great, but whose most salient attributes were their flaws and the tiny sadness built into them—I didn’t see anything that really had a direct association to who I am and what I do today. That was until I opened my box of stuffed animals.

And that’s what it was. A simple box of old stuffed animals. There was the alligator whose back looked like a pellucid green sea floor, the lion mascot representing the local bank, the Scooby Doo off of which I actually ate most of the hair because at the time I associated it with cotton candy. I didn’t make any of these animals or even modify them in a clever way (with the possible exception of mangy Scooby). But they were key in the creation of something that I rebuild almost every day.

These animals comprised what I called, at two or three years of age, my “contraption.” In the aimless hours of the early single digits, I would select a closet or a tight corner and surround myself up to my neck with my animals. This was my contraption. By being in this compact area packed with stuff, I found a state of grace—perhaps it was love, safety, a return to the surety of the womb, or just a place to feel comfortable with myself and be able to assess the outside world from relative certainty.

This contraption, be it of stuffed animals at the time, would evolve into so many things that were and are critical to my output. It could be the cloistered confines of a studio or the crammed intimacy of a Tokyo venue. Most of my work is in a solo capacity and, over the years, I have built my contraption. I sit, presiding over numerous effect pedals, not only on the floor but on music stands within arm’s reach. I am backed by at least one, but often more, amps of varying sizes. My flanks, which typically would be vulnerable, are bolstered by small tables or stands that hold the sundry objects with which I rend my guitar into anything but.  And my guitar, not emblazoned across my ribcage, but tucked comfortably in the crook of my lap, that I might look down upon it, read its total surface, and write its song.

No, it wasn’t the objects that I made. It wasn’t the Zoology club that I started at nine, or the award-winning Pinewood Derby car my dad and I made in Cub Scouts. But rather a state, or space; an environment of transmutable materials, as long as the grace of the state was maintained. To this day, I peer out of my contraption, this locus of creative endeavor, my answer to a claustrophiliac’s prayer. However, I must admit I brought the puppet home because, simply put, it’s fucked.


Bill is an improviser/composer/performer in a wide array of genres including rock, jazz, contemporary chamber, avant garde, folk, new music and several subgenres within each.  He has appeared on 70+ recordings and has performed well over 1000 concerts throughout North America, Mexico, Europe, and Japan.  Bill has worked with John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Stuart Dempster, Matt Chamberlain, Trey Gunn (King Crimson), Vidushi Sumitra Guha, Kawabata Makoto (Acid Mothers Temple), Secret Chiefs 3, Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins) and Six Organs of Admittance, as well as members of Pearl Jam, Earth and Sunn0))) among others.  He is, or has been, a member of numerous bands including Master Musicians of Bukkake (2012 Stranger Genius Award nominees), Kinski, Nobodaddy, Phineas Gage, Axolotl, UnFolkUs, Zahir, Tablet, Nervewheel, Ghidra, Rollerball, Quasi-Mojo, Portable Sanctuary and the award-winning Paul Rucker Ensemble in addition to extensive solo activity.  He was the recipient of the 2006 GAP grant, 2005 Artist Trust Fellowship and the 1997 Jack Straw Artist Assistance Program Grant.  He was composer-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts, creating music for “Lyric”, commissioned by University of Calgary choreographer Davida Monk in 2002.  Bill has taught students of all ages privately and does presentations and workshops at schools from first grade to college-level, including the University of Calgary, Western Washington University, Seattle Art Institute, Martin Luther King Elementary (Seattle), the Experience Music Project and Big Picture School for at-risk youth.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, John Osebold?

I’m going to tell you about my brother Paul. Paul is the eldest in my sibling tribe, followed by my sister Sara, then me. As kids raised in north Spokane, we were surrounded by open landscapes. Our backyard was a forest, so it was easy to immerse ourselves in complete imagination. On rainy days we would bring those expansive imaginationscapes inside and fill the basement or rec room, or both. We made up plays, songs, games, jokes – whatever struck our fancy, and it was Paul, the natural pioneer of our sibling wagon train, who led the charge. He was well versed in TV and radio shows, and well spoken with good enunciation. Paul introduced me to everything TV, from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes to Dr. Who and Star Trek. One of my favorite brotherly routines was watching Jack Horkheimer: Star Hustler, a 5 minute mini-show for astronomy enthusiasts that aired right after Dr. Who just before dinner. I still remember Jack Horkheimer’s tips for locating the North Star and understanding quasars, but it was the ritual of watching the show with my brother that made the show significant. Paul also introduced me to Jack BennyAbbott & Costello, and old radio programs like The Shadow and War of the Worlds,Magical Mystery TourBloom County—the list goes on. In fact, Paul was a trailblazer not only in what I watched, read, and listened to, but he also paved the way for me in what I consider to be two pillars of kidhood life: playing a sport and learning a musical instrument. He played soccer. He played violin. So I did as well.

Our lives changed when the Osebold family got a video camera in December 1983. That Christmas, Paul, Sara, and I were in front of the camera whenever it was on—and sometimes when it was off. But whereas Sara and I would crowd the lens without a thought in our heads, Paul was considerate and structured. When Sara and I finally crawled out of the frame after running out of bright ideas, Paul calmly stepped in front of the camera and displayed a model train from his collection. He discussed its make, model, and history with the air of a scholar. Then I ruined his segment.

PAUL: This is an N-scale replica of a Chessie System locomotive—


PAUL: Please excuse my brother, he—


The video camera turned from new toy to tool when Paul started writing sketches to be filmed. I wanted in on that, but to keep up with Paul, I had to gain focus. I started thinking like a performer as well as an audience member. Paul and I quickly honed an Abbott & Costello chemistry – he as the straight man Abbott, and me as the dimwitted, loudmouthed Costello. It was an unplanned, but natural division of personality. We made fake news segments, he as the anchor and me as the guests, complete with intro/outro music. We reproduced a Jack Benny sketch, he as Jack Benny and me as the eccentric violin teacher. We made commercials. We told stories.

Those VHS tapes are still at my parents’ house if you want to see them.  With Paul at the helm, I was confident in our material. Our only audience was ourselves, so we created without concern, or even awareness, of criticism. Then one day I decided to create a little film of my own. To give me confidence, my intended audience was my brother.

This was my film idea: I wrote a fake outtake reel for a fictional commercial airliner called JJJ Airlines. I don’t remember the significance of the triple Js. The idea was to write a script in the style of TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes, set up one shot of a chair against a wall with an oval-shaped airplane window made out of paper, and perform it myself. The character I was playing would be unable to get through a single take without making mistakes—with hilarious consequences, of course. It was 1983 and this sort of thing was still new. I was going to make the film and show it to Paul, hoping it would make him proud. But who knows how it would have made him feel? When your collaborator comes back with a completed work of his own it makes you feel unnecessary, no matter how proud you might be.

I’ll never know how he would have taken it. The JJJ Airlines outtake reel only got as far as a working script before it was abandoned, probably because I had to shovel the driveway and then build a snow fort. Regardless, I had my first taste of creating a project on my own. I had a plan, I made a script and the camera was ready. I credit that attempt, as well as subsequent attempts at other projects that actually made it to fruition, to Paul. Over the years, our sibling projects grew less and less. School took over our lives. Then we were teenagers and you know how that goes. I began to make entire shows of my own. Paul was still writing, but gone were the days of our collaborations. I’ve been fortunate to have engaged in a great many collaborative projects since moving to Seattle in 1995, but I always remember my first team: me, my brother, and my sister. My brother was the leader. He taught me how to make things.

John Osebold / Jose Bold works in music, theater, video, and literature, the results of which have included collage films with a live score (MOUNTAINLong Distance!WWSD), a deconstructo-comedy about the Spider-Man musical (Spidermann in Seattle & NYC), theatrical concerts (<symphony>Universal Translator), literary stage performances (SeateethMinistry of Poems), unstageable plays and other writings (published in Filter Literary Journal vol. 2 & 3, FolioCity Arts MagazineThe Monarch Review), and an annual December album project posted at josebold.com. He’s in the band “Awesome” and sketch comedy group The Habit. He mows his own lawn and does the dishes.

John is also a participant in TPR’s Art & Technology series

What’s The First Thing You Ever Made, Ryan Feddersen?

It was the late summer of 1993 and I just knew it was going to be an epic school year. I was finally starting to feel like I was “growing up.” You see, the third grade was a big year at my school. Our recesses were segregated; the playground divided into the “little kids” side (K-2nd) and the “big kids” side (3rd-5th). By what was likely coincidence—but I saw as design—this big step forward coincided with the first year I was allowed to pick out my own wardrobe. I donned torn up jeans, vintage t-shirts and even talked my way into a red dye job. With three older sisters, I was aware of the grunge movement brewing and envisioned myself not just a “big kid,” but a badass in the making.

Beginning the first week of class, a kink was thrown into my newly rebellious image: our class was trying out an “incentivized discipline” program. Throughout the week, students could earn tickets for good behavior: one ticket for pushing your chair all the way in, for each perfect spelling score, for volunteering to help out, etc. Tickets were taken back for bad behaviors like an incident of talking out of turn, line cutting, name calling and all things deemed unacceptable.

On the first Friday, we were introduced to the store. A tablecloth was spread across the floor, dotted with sparkling treasures paired with post-it note prices. There were shining metallic pencils topped with pristine erasers, heart shaped pencil sharpeners, holographic rulers with dinosaurs hatching from speckled eggs, novelty smiley faced erasers, and miniature note books with glittering covers. It was a veritable orgy of gratuitous paraphernalia and it made my hand-me down supplies with old chew marks, crossed out names, and smashed flats of useless erasers seem all the more embarrassing and inadequate. The best items were priced at 15 or more tickets. It would take weeks to earn even a single bobble, and I needed, like, everything! I felt my options were slim. Becoming the class suck-up would destroy my new reputation. It would also take forever.

Over the next few weeks I devised a plan. I bartered chores for a set of scarcely used Pentel® markers from my older-but-artistically-disinclined sister, collected some printer paper, and started my book of flash. At one ticket a piece, students could purchase a temporary tattoo of a star, heart, or four leaf clover. For two, the designs were a more complicated butterfly, dinosaur, or rose. At 5 tickets, designs were “awesome” and included faeries, skulls, or eyeballs sprouting wings. During recess I set up shop atop the coolest big kid fort on the playground, and business was soon booming. Within three weeks half the student body was dotted with fresh or fading tattoos. Meanwhile, I was pacing my purchases to remain inconspicuous. Still, I was amassing tickets and was getting nervous.

What brought down my miniature tattoo empire was the last thing I expected. Parents began to complain that the markers might be toxic, or at least that they couldn’t know for sure that they weren’t. I might have been able to defend myself had I kept the packaging, or had there been access to the yet unknown to me “internet.” My operations were shut down, though I was surprisingly not penalized for my entrepreneurship. It was my earliest venture into marketing art, and perhaps my last of a strictly commercial nature. However, it was the first experience that brought becoming an “artist” onto my radar.

Ryan Feddersen is a Seattle-based Native American mixed media installation artist. Her upcoming show “TAG! You’re it.” at Capitol Hill’s Joe Bar (July 16-August 5) will begin with a participatory, crowd-sourced forum on personal expression in public spaces on Thursday, July 12 at 6 PM. Documents collected from the evening will be used to saturate Joe Bar progressively over the period of the show.


What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, djbrass?

the first thing,
a complex thing—that shame.

a lump of clay fashioned
into a face
the blonde hair, glazed—
the shine thick with awkwardness.
sick pink features, eyes
cut crookedly into slits.

I recall pastel blues.

I was five years old.


Later and often, I would try to steal this small grotesque slab from my mother, my cheeks flaring when she would refuse its destruction.

It was ugly.
She could not convince me otherwise.

I never wanted anyone else to see this melted excuse for “art”
At 7, at 10, at 15.


My mother still has this “first.”

I recently asked her why she keeps it.
She said:

“It was the first, it was endearing, it was special.”

djbrass received her degree from the Slade School of Fine Art in London. She is a UK-based artist and writer and facilitates art programming for a well-being initiative on the southeast coast of England, where she also served as an editor and contributor for xfxthemag (http://xfxthemag.com/).


What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Clare Barboza?

Honestly, I have a crappy memory. I remember making LOTS of things as a kid—drawings, songs, stories, plays, baked goods, poems. You name it, I made it. But the first thing? I don’t remember what that was.

I do, however, remember a theme that repeated itself over and over again, starting at a young age. I was a constant seeker and creator of “homeyness” in my household.

My family life was pretty volatile growing up and so I tried, daily, to create a cozy, happy home, and I did so through decorating. On a weekly basis, I moved the furniture around into a new, more visually-pleasing arrangement. I baked cookies because they made the house smell good. I fluffed pillows, and tried to copy photos in magazines that depicted perfect families in perfect houses. At the holidays, it was my personal mission to create a space that looked like the ones in Christmas commercials—I trimmed pine garlands, lit candles in every room, played holiday music, set up nativity scenes, and placed all of my brother’s and my homemade holiday creations in prime viewing locations.

It’s funny how much this theme has continued throughout my life. To this day, I hate being anywhere with bad lighting. In my home, there are often candles lit, music playing, fresh flowers in a vase, and something good-smelling. I peruse interior design magazines and collect photos of anything and everything that inspires me. My husband indulges my obsession with home makeover shows.

One might say the first thing I ever made was a practice: of creating oases, of crafting comfort, and of visualizing memory-worthy scenes—a practice that now serves my art.


Clare Barboza is a Seattle-based food photographer and artist, with a passion for farms, moody lighting and all things vintage. She has photographed over a dozen cookbooks and regularly shoots for various publications, restaurants, and chefs. Clare also leads photography workshops out of her studio in downtown Seattle. Clare made the photos above while spending time at her cousin’s farm in Georgia. 



What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Patterson Clark?


Although it’s tempting to focus on the contents of my first diaper—which surely saw only a flash of daylight before it was dispatched into the farm-house septic system that nourished a giant sycamore tree generating interlaced wood impossible to split with an axe—I’d rather reset the clock to 2003, when a weed stopped me in my tracks.

By then, I’d already pulled thousands of alien weeds as a park volunteer, helping to alleviate some of the pressure that invasive plants impose upon native vegetation. Removing exotic weeds invites the return of indigenous biological diversity. Spot a weed, rip it out, and native plants and animals have a shot at coming back.

One day, I bent over to yank out a noxious young sapling and a realization suddenly struck me: these fellow colonists were offering a superabundance of material.

With a newfound reverence, I pulled out the sapling and carried it back to the kitchen, where I spent the afternoon trying to figure out how to unwrap its gift.

That afternoon has yawned into nine years, during which that first weed, Hibiscus syriacus, has divulged several of its secrets. Its inner bark yields a strong, cream-colored paper. Left to soak overnight, crushed leaves of the plant produce a gooey “formation aid,” which helps to evenly distribute fibers in the papermaking vat. Wood from older stems is dense, hard and bright white, ideal for inlays into darker weed woods. Burning leftover scraps of the plant produces a fine soot for mulling into jet-black ink.

Many other local invasive plants have revealed their virtues: a fluorescent golden-yellow pigment, a fine-grained wood, well-suited for relief printing blocks; long, flexible bast fibers; pink and green yarn; sloppy-sweet berries; pungent greens; aqua, magenta-rust and green-black pigments for watercolors and printing inks; antimicrobial compounds; essential oils and hydrosols; fuel and chemicals used in the papermaking process.

Many of these extracts reunite at the letterpress, where they get a value-added boost before they enter the marketplace to help finance their own removal.

I left the traditional farm while still a child, but have, in the urban landscape, reclaimed my birthright as a reaper, tapping into a rampant bounty of odd crops that require no cultivation, only harvest.

Image: 11-Stem Note (Weed-wood soot and Multiflora-Rose-stem inks printed from a Norway Maple printing block onto paper made from 11 stems of Garlic Mustard pulled by volunteers at Croydon Creek Nature Center, Rockville, Maryland. Project funded by a grant from VisArts of Rockville, with proceeds of the sale of the print going to the nature center and The Stone and Holt Weeks Foundation.)

Patterson Clark is a visual journalist at The Washington Post, where he writes and illustrates the weekly local natural history column Urban Jungle, http://www.washingtonpost.com/urbanjungle. He posts the produce of his harvest of invasive plants at http://www.alienweeds.com.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Troy Gua?

While I remember drawing non-stop from the time I could put pencil to the backside of my father’s office letterhead, the first thing I specifically remember making was a miniature reproduction of King Tut’s tomb. It was 1978, and Seattle Art Museum had brought the traveling exhibition “The Treasures of Tutankhamun” to the Seattle Center. The exhibition was an international sensation (many recall Steve Martin’s hit song “King Tut”), drawing 1.3 million visitors in Seattle.


I was obsessed. I could think or dream of nothing during those few months other than King Tut and his glorious golden treasures and the amazing story of Howard Carter’s discovery. I collected newspaper clippings, begged my mom to buy the magazines we saw at the grocery store, researched at the school library and pored over everything I could get my little first grader’s hands on. I made drawings of each piece of furniture, each statue, each piece of clothing, each vessel, *all* of it. I couldn’t get enough.

There was a little mom and pop grocery store down the street from our suburban subdivision near the airport, and my buddies and I frequented the joint, stocking up on candy and soda for our busy afternoon and weekend bike tours of the neighborhood. I noticed a new product one day: a tiny Egyptian sarcophagus filled with candies. Mine. I coveted it. I emptied the little casket of its contents and I decided to set about making a tomb to rest it in. Using one of the magazine’s diagrams of the actual tomb in the Valley of the Kings as a guide, I procured some corrugated cardboard, mom’s scissors, Elmer’s glue, and Scotch tape and set up work space on the dining room table. I got to work and soon I had a little tomb. I made a little mummy from a pencil stub wrapped in tape and gauze and sealed it inside the plastic sarcophagus.

Now, where to bury it?  Mom offered a vacant flower bed in the back yard, butted up to the house. Perfect. I dug for what seemed like all day and when I got as deep as I felt necessary, which was probably no more than a foot or so, I carefully set the minitomb into the hole and replaced the soil on top of it. I was so proud. A few days in, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the little tomb. I began to worry about it. What was happening to it? I asked mom if it was ok to dig it up. She said no, that wouldn’t be a good idea, I might disturb the mummy and unleash a curse. That worked for a while, but not long and I was digging it up.

It was gone. Nothing there. No tomb, no sarcophagus, no mummy. A true mystery never to be solved. I assume mom dug it up to plant roses, but she never said so and I never asked. Spooky.

-o(:-]}Troy Gua was born and raised in Seatac, Washington. He’s a Libra. He prefers the term self-actualized to self-taught, but will answer to either. More about him and his work can be found at www.troygua.com.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, David Mitsuo Nixon?

There were songs before I can remember them. But I do remember the first thing that can be called an album. It was called Heavy Spider Volume I: Hot Buttered Bananas. It’s me and my best friend Sadiq (back then known as Deke), recording on an old battery-powered tape player, making up lyrics as we go. The name of our “band” was The Deke And David Organization of Sounds Systems Limited (or DDOSSL for short). These songs are what we called (and still call) “kunjabunjas”: improvised, recorded, always with a spirit of collaboration and ever heeding the policy of quantity over quality. We now have over 1,600 of them. But these were the first. I’m 12, and my voice has not yet broken, though Sadiq’s has. You can hear the sounds of my Atari 2600 in the background. You can hear my mom come in and say, “David, you have to get going soon.” (I seem to ignore her – there’s 20 more minutes of recording after that.)

The track listing is:

1. Hot Butter Bananas
2. Attack of the Frogmen
3. Six O’Clock Blues
4. Camp Stretch-A-Kid
5. Coasta De Calaba
6. Saint Louis Blues
7. Fun Things to Do / Drip

Here’s the lyrics for the title track, Hot Buttered Bananas:

There I was just a-sittin on my couch.
Stubbed my toe and I said ouch.
The only thing I want is something new.
Something better tasting than my old shoe.
So I took a banana and put it in the oven
I also poured on some hot buttered… glovin’.
It tastes really good, now that I’ve tried it
But tomorrow I think I’m gonna fight it.
Last time I sucked it out of a straw
I don’t think it was cooked, I think it was raw
You have to eat it with a spoon, not a fork
It tastes really good, better than pork.
So try the hot buttered bananas
Yeah yeah yeah hot buttered bananas
Hot buttered bananas!
Yeah yeah yeah hot buttered bananas!
Yeah yeah yeah hot buttered bananas!
Yeah yeah yeah hot buttered bananas!


Listen to Hot Buttered Bananas

-David (far left) is a multi-disciplinary artist (film maker, animator, musician, performance artist, banjo player, composer, choreographer, painter, actor, singer) and a member of the music/theater/art collective “Awesome” and the alt-bluegrass trio The Half Brothers. See him at The Project Room Friday April 27 at 7pm for a workshop and preview of his new film, Bladfold.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Kristen T. Ramirez?

It still stings to recount a run-in with a childhood friend at our high school reunion in which she outed me to a small crowd: “Remember in elementary school how you always invited people over to colorinstead of to play?!” The subsequent laughter was—and remains—lost on me. Thirty years later, my perfect day would still be filled with crayons and coloring jams. Outside of the ubiquitous crayons and colored pencils, my materials were varied in the freewheeling late seventies and early eighties:

From 4th through 7th grade, the ledge just above the stovetop at my dad’s house was lined with my Plasticine cephalopods, unicorns, Hello Kitties, and woodland animals. They stood at attention for years, coated in a hearty veneer of kitchen grease.

The Can-Crusher™ (patent pending!) was fashioned from two 2 by 4’s, nailed together to form a “T”, resplendent in its wrapped ribbons, and colored with markers. We used it in the garage to crush empty cans of Dr. Pepper, Coors, and Tab before they went into the trash.

Multi-media bedroom installations were abundant. For years I slept under a floor-to-ceiling construction paper tree that dropped leaves. The tree was succeeded by an immersive Ms. Piggy installation that paid homage to my hero. Piggy stayed up through most of 6th grade until punk’s influence proved too strong. Then my sisters and I did intervention makeovers on our Barbies with safety pins, tats, and Mohawks before we hung them from the ceiling.

Who didn’t?

-Kristen is a visual artist and educator living in Seattle, WA. She likes the color orange. See her work at www.kristenramirez.com.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, David Eadington?

While I vaguely remember writing a monster-themed short story in one of those old, wide-ruled composition books in 4th or 5th grade, my first forays into poetry writing came during the puberty-driven horrors of junior high. I was a geeky, shy 12-year old kid with a deep romantic streak (think Shelley’s “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!”), and I was developing a new desperate crush every two weeks. The only poetry I was really reading was Poe, which fit in with my love of the science fiction/fantasy genres.

But it was exactly Poe’s overwrought sentimentality that drew me to writing poetry—I believed that poetry was the best form for emotional impact. While many of my early poems were tortured outpourings over unrequited loves, my first poem indulged my love for Arthurian fantasy. It imagined a knight in his twilight years, whose gallantry renders him untouchable by death:

The Knight

The brave knight
rides upon a white
and doesn’t stop
for anything.

No longer does he
play with Death
for Death
now haunts
his shadow.

Yet as the gallant
knight rides on forever
Death can move
no closer…

Keats it was not. But I kept on writing—I couldn’t stop—and churned out enough clichéd tripe to insulate a large home. Thankfully, in my freshman year I read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and my entire understanding of how poetry can work was changed.

-David Eadington is a poet and photographer based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared inXelas Magazine and other publications, and he was one of 6 poets selected for the annual “Newer Poets” of Los Angeles reading in 2010.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Garrett Fisher?


I was born with the gene that makes you want to tell stories. It’s definitely an inherited trait—my mom’s ability to embellish and exaggerate is unmatched  (all other family members agree). She, in turn, got her gift from my grandmother, a weaver (of actual yarn). Here’s a journal from when I was six years old and living with my professor-parents on their sabbatical in Turkey. I remember wanting to actually write down every minute, and in the first chapter (entitled “Nothing”), my sister thwarts my efforts by asking me to get off the rug so that she can sweep it.

The second chapter, or “Christy’s Birthday Party,” reveals the first kernels of a family dynamic (“uhhh!”). There’s also a chapter of our trip to Hungary, where we first stay at a questionable hotel on the Yugoslavian highway (“the food was not so good”; and my parents later told me that they discovered in the middle of that night the hotel doubled as a brothel), followed by a meeting with Hungarian family friend Gustav, who was “fat indeed.”  Although in 1976 I assume there were planes, we travelled to and from Turkey via the Stefan Batory, a Polish steamliner. To say that it the trip was, at points, “really rocky” and “some people threw up” is *definitely* an understatement.


Note:  My sister Christy, who is now a Seattle-based choreographer, and I have been collaborating on projects ever since this journal was published in 1976.

Garrett Fisher is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Fisher Ensemble. He will be presenting a musical demonstration on The Klavihorn in The Project Room on April 1 as part of his forthcoming operatic film, Magda G.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Joey Veltkamp?


Outside of teacher-led projects (God’s Eyes, a rocking chair made out of clothespins, etc.) or childhood stuff (tree forts, lots of tree forts), the first real thing I remember making was a profit/enemy. When I was in fifth grade, the sixth grade class was selling pom-poms made of yarn to raise money. I remember seeing them and thinking, “A pom-pom? Big deal.” So I would buy them for a quarter, take them home, add googly eyes, and then re-sell them at recess for fifty cents.

After a week of this, I remember talking to a friend, when a sixth grader tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you selling googly-eye pom-poms?” Thinking he was a new customer, I proudly answered, “YES!”

And then he punched me right in the gut!

Joey Veltkamp is a Seattle-based artist and writer. Recent drawings are on view in “The Blanket Show” at Seattle’s Cupcake Royale through March 31.


What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Langdon Cook?

I remember my first and only piece of agitprop, which happens to be forever linked with my first feelings of artistic regret. I was in seventh or eighth grade. Reagan was president, the Cold War in its final years of escalation. Mr. Levitt, the school art teacher, ruled over a spacious corner of the second floor littered with easels, tubes of paint, and jars of rubber cement. Unlike any other teacher, he wore jeans and long, frizzy hair, and though he played classical music all day, he often told stories about pop stars like Bob Dylan and Keith Richards as if he knew them personally. Our assignment: to create a poster for Art Class with a message.

I sketched my project in pencil on a large piece of white poster board, then painted it with bright water colors: a red devil complete with goatee, forked tail, and evil grin, holding the Earth, green and blue, like a medicine ball. Right over his crotch. A very phallic nuclear missile, also devil-red and decorated with the stars and stripes and hammer and sickle, burst out from the globe. Subtle it wasn’t. Mr. Levitt asked me if I wanted to enter my “Rape of the Earth” in the school art show, to be judged by the principal. I demurred. He nodded understandingly and left it at that. My chicken-shit response still rankles to this day. The poster resides in my parents’ attic.

-Langdon Cook is a writer, instructor, and lecturer on wild foods and the outdoors. Join him in a discussion with Spilled Milk co-creators Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg on March 22 at 6pm.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Matthew Amster-Burton?

Before Spilled Milk, I had very limited radio experience. In the mid-90s, I read the morning news with my friend Dave on our college radio station. The program manager warned us that cracking up while reading news was strictly prohibited. Somehow we managed to comply with this edict, even though we gravitated toward the stupidest news-of-the-weird headlines possible. The headlines literally came clattering off a dot-matrix printer, and after we read the news and our microphone was turned off, we collapsed into hysterics.

Long before that, however, when I was seven or eight, I would curl up in my room with a cheap cassette deck and record my own “radio” show. Thankfully, it was broadcast to no one other than my parents. I don’t remember any of the actual content of my show, although I’m sure it was inspired by (that is, lifted wholesale from) Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40, which debuted around the same time. All I remember is thinking that if I wanted to make a real radio show, it would have to have commercials. So I made a Jell-O commercial. It went like this:

Snookberry Jell-O!
Snookberry Jell-O!
All the world loves snookberry Jell-O!
Snookberry Jell-O is the one to buy
Six cents apiece–that’s why

I really hope those tapes self-destructed, Mission Impossible-style. But I did teach my eight-year-old daughter the Snookberry Jell-O song, because somebody has to keep the old standards alive.

Matthew Amster-Burton is the author of Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater. Join Matthew and Spilled Milk co-host Molly Wizenberg in a discussion with Langdon Cook on March 22 at 6pm.

What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Tim O’Reilly?

It’s hard to remember the first thing I ever made, but I do remember a fairly endless succession of sodium bicarbonate and vinegar rockets made out of cigar tubes, trying to duplicate the success of a formed plastic one that my brother had gotten for Christmas. I was probably six or so. We used to launch ants into “space” atop Sean’s rocket (so I guess the mods we made to his store-bought rocket might also count.)

At about the same age, I remember scavenging little electric motors from supermarket advertising displays (you wouldn’t remember those, from pre-digital days) to a large wooden crate, hoping that if we got enough of them spinning propellers, we’d eventually be able to fly back to England to be re-united with our dear friend Shane O’Toole.

-Tim is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc.


What’s the First Thing You Ever Made, Bruce Machart?

I can’t draw.  I never could.  Not at all.  Even my stick figures appear to be afflicted by scoliosis.  My earliest memory of a creative endeavor came at my father’s suggestion.  I was three, maybe four, and my older brother could draw, and I was none too generous in the wake of this brotherly one-upsmanship (read: tantrum).  So my dad said, “You know, boys.  We could build a kite.”  If I could translate my four-year-old thoughts into my forty-one-year-old language, I would say that what went through my mind was something to the tune of, “Don’t bullshit me, Pop.”  But he was right, as he so often was.  We collected dowels, newspaper, paper grocery bags, glue, string, ribbon, some Little Debbie treats (mandatory brain food of the 70s), and we went to work.  And we folded, and we glued, and we cut, and we tied, and after several hours, we had an elaborate, fragile, beautiful box kite.  Outside, on the first launch, I held the string taut and my brother flung the thing skyward.  It rose.  God, how it rose.  It flew!  And then, five seconds into the maiden flight, a sudden gust of wind ripped the thing asunder, sending little ticker-tape strips of paper flying around the neighborhood.  But it didn’t matter at that point.  We had made it.  We had made it and it had flown.

-Bruce Machart: Author of The Wake of Forgiveness and a new book of short stories, Men in the Making

This was originally published in July, and is now being republished as a single response.