I crash-landed into Austin the first week of 2009 with no idea (but every expectation) of where my life would take me. I’d run like hell from the suburbs, from a broken heart, from anything and everything that had ever hurt or bored me, to a mecca of creativity whose air just kind of hugged me the second I got off the plane.
People with open minds immediately get the draw of this place, and people who scrawl crappy articles for a living write mean things about it in what they perceive to be brilliant exercises in linkbait, but the fact remains: Austin is an amazing place for anyone who needs to start their life anew. I should know. I’m one of the fifty zillion people who’ve done it here (yes, I’m a cliche and I’m okay with that), and I will always be grateful for it.
Fast forward four years from that January night and we’re smack in the middle of now. I went to my first writing conference this past weekend, and while it was in many ways a terrifying experience, it was an emboldening one too. As agents, publishers, journalists, novelists and other industry experts gave us the names to know, the rules to break, the tips to employ, and the courage to try, an army of aspiring novelists, essayists and nonfiction writers cowered in the face of so much information — not to mention the statistics (oh god, the statistics) — but something else was happening at the same time. A community was forming. Even if it was only momentary, and even if most of us who made small talk in the hallways never see each other again, for three short days I felt completely understood.
Without having to explain what feels like a proprietary blend of confidence mixed with crippling self-doubt that altogether makes no sense — even to me, and it’s mine — everyone around me last weekend seemed to be dealing with the same push and pull within themselves. Toiling around New York City on our off-hours, wondering how we should finish building our stories, what sorts of revisions we should make, and how we should pitch them to people who can actually get them printed on paper and shipped to local bookstores, most of us crawled onto our planes home exhausted from the sheer volume of decisions we knew we had to make (and soon) if we wanted to keep calling ourselves writers. And I hope to god not one of them gives up.
These people have stories to tell — some of them staggering. These people have lessons to teach the rest of us, whether they realize it or not. And for 72 wee little hours, I got to be a part of them. I got to wring my hands right alongside them while I hoped and prayed I really did have what it takes to keep writing until I’m 100 and hit the mile markers I’ve set for myself. And the rest of them spent the weekend (and will probably spend the rest of their lives) doing the very same thing.
The word “community” gets kicked around a lot. Community center. Community college. Online community. Community of professionals. But in Austin, that same sort of ethos I sensed in that conference hotel exists in the air. People trying to create something beautiful all sit across from one another in public places, anonymously enjoying our breakfast tacos while we plug away at whatever we’re working on and hope to hell we get it right. The funny thing is, while our insecurities are probably a big part of what keeps us honest and working really, really hard, at the same time, a lot of it is probably unwarranted. This city is full of creative genius — of dedicated craftsmanship — of artistry unparalleled for miles around. The painters, writers, designers, chefs and shutterbugs in this town all love what we do, and many do it so well it’s astonishing. That’s why I’m beyond honored to collaborate with nine of them on a new project highlighting everything I’ve spent this paragraph talking about.
Citygram is the convergence of ten (and eventually more) Austin-based scribes, photographers, and other aesthetes reporting on the creative community we all love. After getting inspired by photographing and writing house tours of Austin’s creative community for Apartment Therapy in his spare time, my good friend Chris Perez left his “sure thing” (an engineering job) behind last month and threw himself full-throttle into a passion project that I predict will become a staple of local culture as the years go on. Pulling together local talent to share yet more local talent, Citygram will be available in the Apple app store for free once it launches next month, and it aims to be the most interactive animal of its kind on the market. Like the restaurant we’re reviewing? Pull down the menu from the very same page and make a reservation. Love the concept of the band featured in a spotlight piece? Have a listen right there in the middle of the text. Wondering what Citygram’s contributors are up to right now? Just open the app and you’ll see our live tweets. (But please, no stalking, dear serial killers. The rest of you: knock yourselves out!)
Oh, and did I mention it’s beautiful? Because it’s beautiful. Really, really beautiful.
Chris and the Citygram team are doing our best to raise enough funds to get us up and running, keeping the digital magazine free for anyone who’s interested in checking it out. If you’d like to help us produce what’s sure to be a phenomenal step forward for Austin’s small business community and local artists of all kinds, you can contribute to our Kickstarter campaign. In fact, we’d love it if you would, and we’ll make sure you have something to show for it — photography lessons, a locally-made gift basket full of goodies, even a full-page ad in our app. Around here, we like to give as well as we get. So, if you’d consider giving us a bit of your goodwill, I can assure you you’ll get it back in spades. Because that’s what a community is: people who look out for one another and help each other live their dreams. Regardless of what some desperate reporter might say, doesn’t that sound like utopia?
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