Hi there. You're probably here because:

you’ve heard my voice on the radio

you’ve seen my calligraphy

you're interested in my company Switchboard


Confused? You're not alone.  This is the first time these lives have co-existed. So I'll start at the beginning.

I was born to a cellist and painter. I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For most of my life I could count on one hand the number of people I knew with 9 to 5 jobs. I was surrounded by artists, musicians, Rolfers, montessori teachers, midwives, writers, blacksmiths, new age bookstore owners. Everyone was happy, the children ate carob, and very few of us had health insurance. 

I went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon. I studied Russian. To be clear: I had little interest in Russian. I studied it to sit at the feet of a life-changing professor.  "It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are," as Wendell Berry put it. Let us call this Theme One. 

During my summers I did what you’d expect from a liberal arts student: performed ultrasounds at a women's clinic, toiled away at a cubicle researching welfare-to-work reforms, taught art to Balkan orphans on a Croatian island, and translated briefs for a multinational law firm. I owe my entire life to Reed College. I know this sounds hyperbolic. But it was there that I met my future husband, many collaborators, and the people who remain a source of daily inspiration: letterpress artist vinegar makers, community photojournalists, physicists vintners, Slovene painter professors, saber fighting political scientists, capoeira practicing programmer classicists. 

For much of my 20s I busied myself with the awkward experience of early adulthood. This meant exploring every industry I was curious about, or apprenticing myself to anyone I could learn something from. I worked in higher ed, for a doctor who studied night eating, with Russian middle-school students, as a florist, as a food writer, with puppeteers, labor unions, and countless non-profits. I curated art exhibits, wrote budgets for pharmaceutical companies, and, for three years, authored a weekly newspaper column that granted me the opportunity to eat dinner at strangers’ houses. By the end of this time my CV was a (fairly ill-considered) series of cards categorized by skill.  Depending on your perspective, I'm an unapologetic dilettante (from dilettare, to delight) and/or a recently rooted nomadic leader.  

In 2009 I started a calligraphy business called Neither Snow.  That fall I enrolled in Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism thanks to the remarkable, Medicean patronage of two families and a generous scholarship. I wanted to transition to radio, and learn from reporters who are my heroes. I would wake up at 5 AM to address hundreds of envelopes for Upper West Side brides. I went to class covered in ink. I took the Q train to Jamaica, Queens to report on a story about mortgage fraud that consumed my life. I audited classes at the Business School and on network theory. After graduation, I was a daily reporter for WHYY, Philadelphia's NPR affiliate station. Then I went freelance full-time and starting reporting nationally. This is because I made a better living as a calligrapher than a reporter (read that as a statement on both the booming wedding industry and the decline of journalism). And that’s been my life since, covered in ink with a microphone in hand in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Florence, Italy, with stints in Oxford, England, New York, and Portland, Oregon.

All of these experiences are bound by a common thread: people need each other.  But people don't just need other people to make themselves as individuals feel better -- when individuals are connected with the right people, communities function better. The Rolfers need other Rolfers, the cellists need other musicians, the saber fighters need other saber fighters, and the winemakers need other winemakers.  Communities function best when they're connected: when the union members find organizers, the fraud victims find lawyers, the medical students find mentors, the journalists find sources, the welfare mothers find child care. Over and over again I’ve watched people try and fail to find who and what they need. I started  Switchboard because at every stage of the odyssey I’ve just described I’ve been helped by other people, many of whom are listed below. I’ve received patronage, hospitality, life-changing advice, opportunities out of nowhere, instruction on the art of living.  To say I am blessed is an understatement. 

Switchboard started at Reed College to better connect students and alumni. The seed was planted while I served on the Alumni Board, buoyed by a philanthropic initiative of 20 of my alumni friends, and made a reality by my technical co-founder, Sean Lerner. It was something we wish existed when were were students. Through Switchboard I’ve mentored young aspiring journalists, found hosts in cities I’m traveling through, hired outstanding employees. It's now the first place I turn to ask or offer for help. Theme Two: Ask and ye shall receive.

Switchboard connects communities through only two types of posts: asks and offers. It’s a pretty simple idea: it should be easy for people to help one another.  Members of trust networks ask for what they need and offer what they have to give. I once described Switchboard to my grandmother and she replied, “That’s the way my world has always worked, we just didn’t have computers.” This sums it up. It’s an attempt to solve a universal problem: how can I find what I need from the people I trust. 

Here are other ways at describing it. It's like a non-creepy Craigslist. It's an online gift economy for niche networks. It turns classifieds from transactional to transformative. Existing social media is a place to share about ourselves through photos and status updates; Switchboard is a place to share of ourselves through asks, offers, and acts of generosity. "It is true that when a gift enhances our life, or even saves it, gratitude will bind us to the donor," says Lewis Hyde in The Gift:  This is the foundation of Theme Three: kindness and gratitude bind us to one another. 

It turns out if you want solve a problem on the internet you go about it by creating a start-up. This was news to me. Switchboard was accepted to Wieden+Kennedy's Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). Unlike a lot of incubators, PIE values founders with non-traditional tech backgrounds who aren't motivated by million dollar payouts. They also value failure. And everyone from Michael Jordan to Ira Glass to Debbie Millman will tell you how important failure is. PIE provides us with mentors, investment, office space, and some modicum of legitimacy as a start-up founded by two clueless humanists.

In an era of LinkedIn, Switchboard writes thank you notes. Our corporation, Weathergram, is named after a poem on a paper bag. Our team is made up of college students. My work as a calligrapher, designing mostly tattoos, provided the money necessary to get Switchboard off the ground. I never aspired to be an entrepreneur. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We wanted to solve a problem, and share that solution with others. 

Let's hang out! Drop a line or stop by our Portland office. We guarantee ring pops, young men in headphones, and an 8-foot beaver.


Brands, companies & organizations
I’ve reported for or worked with:

National Public Radio, Harvard University, Nike, Samsung, University of Pennsylvania, Boston Globe, Philadephia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, Fendi, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Alzheimer’s Association, American Councils for Teachers of Russian, Tiffany & Co., Hallmark,  National Center for Children in Poverty, Public Citizen, National Organization for Women, Domnio Magainze, Philadephia Magazine, American Public Media/Marketplace, One Kings Lane, Wieden+Kennedy


I've been changed by...

FROM THE 505

Laura Bennett
Sallie Bingham
Margaret Bost
Joey Chavez
Will Clift
Fran Cole
Mary Lou Cook
D & I, J, K, L, M
John Dots
Natalie Frigo
William Gee 
John Gurrola
Lindsay Haddix
Irene Joyce
Julie Joyce
Kate Joyce
Tom Joyce
Daven Lee
Gail & Zachariah Rieke
Daniel Rieke
Izaac Tajan
Betsy Tapia
Rosalie Triana
Erika Wanenenmacher

FROM THE 503

ADX/Kelley Roy
Brent Bailey
Andy Baio
Lucy Bellwood
Brett Beutell
Kate Bingaman-Burt
Greg Borenstein
Thomas Burns
Angelina Clarke
Andrew DeVigal
Camas Davis
Mat Ellis
Daniel Etra
Kaori Freda
Diane Fraiman
Renny Gleeson
Kirsten Golden
simon max hill
Kieran Hanrahan
William Henderson
Jacob Hinmon
Susanna Hohmann
Samuel Hulick
Martha Janicki
John Jay
Emily Johnson/Emprint Press
James Keller
Marshall & Mikalina Kirkpatrick
Allison Krug
Wendy Kotila
Sean Lerner
Lena Lencek
 Little Bird
Laura Lo Forti

Lea Loo
Chris Lopez
Amanda Lucier
Wendy Stokes & Alvin Lucier
Melissa Lewis
Sonya Masinovsky
Kater Murch
Tara Nelson
Clay Northouse
Noah Pepper
Tsilli Pines

Noah Rindos
PIE + Alumni + Mentors
Mark Patel
Darius Rejali
Scott Smith
Ellen Stauder
Darby Strong
Rick Turcozy
Vanessa Van Edwards
Dana Waichunas
Amy Sample Ward
Oriana Walker
Tom Watson

FROM ELSEWHERE

Sam Altman
Sarah Berns, Daren Belsby
& Spring Creek Ranch
Chris Boicos & Charles Myara
Francesca Bregoli
Giancarlo Casale
Paige Champan
Rachel Clark
Julie Cohen
Jerry Colonna
Anil Dash
Justicia DiClue
Yaacob & Julie Dweck 
Morgan Evans
Caterina Fake
Jill Feldstein
Jeanne Griffin
Shari Hochberg
Thora Jacobson
Debbie Millman

George Scialabba
Jim Hinz
Adam Jasienski
Brendan Isaac Jones
Alexandra Lawrence 
Fabrizio Lelli & Flora Filamino
Lyerka Miller & Joyce Knapp
LitLadies

Amy Montgomery
Jamie Montgomery
Nobu & Nancy Siraisi

Pig Iron Theatre Company
Suellen Primost

Frank & Helen Rachubinski
Andy Rachlin
Jonathan Rosenblatt
John Roper

Drs. R. & R. Soricelli
John Stone
Adam Lisagor
Andy Shaindlin
Abigail Spindel
Lis Tarlow
Nicholas Terpstra + all Terpstras 
William & Patricia Utermohlen

Todd Vladyka
Ari Weinzweig
Joanne Wilson
Adam
Woods + 
Camden Printworks

SOME PLACES

Joshua Tree National Park
Saturnia, Italy
Varanasi, India
Shenendoah National Park
Pitt Rivers Museum
Villa I Tatti

SOME ARTISTS

Leonard Cohen
Joseph Cornell
Alexander Girard
Lisel Mueller
Anias Nin
David Foster Wallace

 


Site photography: Kyle Pero
Styling: Kae Yelichanoniv
Wrangling: Tiny Creative