Words By Carolyn Lang, Photos By Ben Droz
Thursday night I wandered into The Intentional Launch Party, held at Petworth’s Chez Billy for the journal’s second installment, “Misfits and Outsiders,” with only a vague notion of what the journal was about, to meet a friend of mine and try to gather as much as I could from the attendees and the ambiance of the gathering.
I had read the Editor‐in‐Chief Kate Jenkins’ heartwrenchingly true account of the millennials for the first issue, a synthesis of our generation as a group who has had to endure intense disillusionment reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in a time when the realities of an economic downturn are evident everywhere. She mentioned the baby boomer generation’s disparagement upon the present generation as lazy, entitled and self‐centered. Coincidentally (or fittingly) the economic downturn has been accompanied by one of the biggest industry shifts in journalism and print publications, and The Intentional is self‐described as “printing on quality paper and…putting a strong emphasis on stunning design, thoughtful curation, and fascinating art…to create something that can be thought of as many think of books‐ a keepsake, a collection of art to be displayed on coffee tables and bookshelves.”
The incongruity of the mission of the journal admist the stark decline in printed works of literature and journalism was not unnoticed by me nor The Intentional‘s creators. “We rarely make art because it is practical; we do it because our hearts and minds ache to engage, to leave a mark…The movement as part of a larger ‘DIY’ thing can be seen as pushback against the digital age, and while Twitter et al have been great for generating social commentary, they fail at providing the perspective needed to see significant conversation topics, news items, and societal dilemmas clearly,” (Editor’s letter, Issue II).
The launch had a pervasive 1920s feel, with the Parisian interior of Chez Billy illuminated by the aureate light of old chandeliers. I thought about the 1920s as a time before a crash, a shimmering era when young people felt only the immense possibility of the future. The millennials inherited a very different world; a world of demoralizing job prospects and a dire forecast about the reliability of any traditional professional trajectory.
In my continual search for irony, I noticed another in descriptors often used to cast our generation as lazy: nearly all of the creators and contributors of The Intentional have additional full‐time jobs, or a plethora of part‐time jobs, in order to continue to make a living while their art was a supplementary (although vital) activity. L.A. Johnson, the lead designer and art director of the journal, spoke to me about the arts community in Washington that she has come to love and embrace alongside her description of a job she has for a large consulting firm. I expressed how impressed I was that she was one of the leading figures in curating and illustrating a visually stunning journal, throwing a dazzling party (with an unbelievable amount of moving parts…artists, photographers, food trucks) while still having such a demanding additional commitment. She told me that they are currently accepting submissions for Issue III, and that they plan to continue to expand their reach and scope.
It is common to remark on the “regressive” path that many young adults have been forced to take, however, in a completely antithetical reality of what is often portrayed, somehow our generation is emerging from the economic collapse as a stronger and more resourceful incarnation of generations past. “Admittedly, if I had gotten everything I expected from my career, then I would be significantly more rigid and less imaginative. I suppose the strength of character that one can develop only through failure is shared by an army of the ‘screwed.’ If nothing else, we’ll come out of this scrappy as hell,” (Jenkins, Letter from the Editor, Issue I).
The night wound on with performances by DC bands Teen Mom and Brent, an exhibition curated by Delicious Spectacle, live screen printing on the patio by The Arcade, art sales by artists from Red Table Press, Hole in the Sky, and Pleasant Plains Workshop, and Milk Cult food truck serving up homemade sandwiches and ice cream. As a whole, the launch party, featuring art and talent from all around the Washington DC area was reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s factory with a strong emphasis on highlighting DC’s seemingly inexhaustible young ingenuity in a collaborative environment.
This was an event emblematic of our generation taking full ownership for the situation we have inherited and the scar tissue that has manifest itself in artistic expression, creative interconnectedness and an almost unsurpassed resilience.
My mind racing from the event and with my characteristic inclination not to write anything without understanding it as thoroughly as possible, I went on a day‐long reading binge of the two journals, in total about 150 pages. The first journal explored themes as nuanced and complex as the paradox of dual emphasis on locavorism and sustainable international economic development, the oft idiosyncratic force of familial connections during young adulthood, the idea of finding a place apart from the passing of time. The first journal highlighted a wealth of perspectives, giving a voice to those who are often marginalized, and generally, as Jenkins put it, giving young people “their opportunity to speak up from within this madness.”
There was a noticeable development from Issue I to Issue II, with the second editor’s letter focusing on the importance of producing something that would endure through time during a collective shift toward shorter, more immediately digested sound bites. Both issues relied heavily on local writers and contributors, but also incorporated talent from all over the world.
“Outsiders and Misfits” endeavored to provide thoughtful commentary about America’s social and economic divide, the necessity of medical professionals having a developed worldview in order to understand and effectively treat patients, and the idea of eradicating borders between populations and people through ethical traveling between imposed divides. There were explorations of gender roles, race economics and sexual identity.
Emily Crockett’s “Crowd Capitalism: Can the Wisdom of the Crowd Outsmart Big Business?” posed searingly true statements about the shift away from an economy based on ownership to one based on access, and explored the growing pains of the transition: “We are witnessing the end of the era in which Americans work for 30 years at one company that provides benefits, a salary that can put two kids through school, and a healthy retirement package…Young Americans from privileged backgrounds are starting to understand what poor and minority communities have understood for a long time: DIY means doing it yourself, all alone, while more fortunate people call you lazy.” The piece ended on not only a hopeful, but a prescient sentiment: “But lately, with increased access to information and social networks, our individual interests are becoming more collective even as they become less centralized. At our desks, on our phones, in our streets, we are quietly organizing a different world…We are starting to move from an economy based on ownership to one based on access…Millenials especially, and people in general, are ever more willing to share what’s theirs or use what isn’t.”
To say that the essays collected in the second issue are thoughtful is an understatement. In a particularly eloquent interview with artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer, Thalhammer labels the goal of her work as “illustrating the translation of a cultural phrase, in an aesthetic style familiar to other peoples of the world…to translate more than actual words, introducing new cultural concepts…to share concepts of freedom, equality and revolution that make up my personal belief system.”
Her synopsis of Washington DC was relevant not only to her work, but to the atmosphere of the entire event and community surrounding it: “The District of Columbia is home to an intelligent community of artists, activists, and cultural directors who constantly inspire me. My community supports and appreciates the undertones of sociopolitical protest that exist in all my work. Additionally, DC is an international city that supports culture and art making fiscally and conceptually.” And in a sentiment so characteristic of self‐centered millennials: “I hope that my art contributes to a more egalitarian world that respects and celebrates the beautiful variety within humanity.”
In “So, My Roommates are my Parents,” Alison Sher gives a sickeningly relateable account of the sadness of accepting parts of the world that are fundamentally at odds with our developed conscience and worldview. She expresses the growing acceptance of the world’s imperfections with a voice that is heavy with weltschmerz, with ideals losing their significance as experience teaches that they will never be synchronous with reality.
“There are days when I wake up faded. In a way I guess one could interpret this as signs of maturity, growth that leads to surrender. The pain of the starving man wearing socks as mittens, the sound of money being funneled into super PACS, the enormity of the Booz Allen Hamiltons, the watchdogs of the NSA surveying my every Facebook post, and the guilt I feel every time I pump my car with fossil fuels are just too much to avoid, too much for one medium sized white girl to combat with a pen…I lay with my back on the floor for over an hour, just to absorb the steady comfort of that firmness and fantasize about what a life of acceptance would be like.” The journal concluded with C.R. Russo’s “Corner Castles,” a stunning account of the realization that home is found not in one particular place, but in those with whom you share yourself. By the last page, the journal was dog‐eared and bleeding with my ink where I had highlighted statements and pictures that I found to be particularly evocative. I had stopped counting the lessening hours until I had to get up for work the next day.
A friend of mine once said that movements are the hardest thing to write about. He said that they lack the definitive parameters of most other topics, or at least that can be created in most other topics. Trying to write about The Intentional for what it illustrates in the context of culture and change, I was brought back to my Advanced Placement U.S. History exam where one of the questions was to explain and extrapolate upon the 1950s intellectuals. I focused on this essay question almost exclusively, bypassing the other essays as I used almost all the allotted time to fumble through an explanation of the transition between the 1950s and the 1960s, highlighting the music and literature that reflected and occasionally led the swing of society’s pendulum. I used buzzwords like “stagnancy” and “upheaval” while betraying the amount of time I had spent during my history class reading my own supplementary texts of On the Road and The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. I attempted to articulate an idea I didn’t entirely understand and certainly didn’t have the vocabulary for, like trying to describe smoke or water or fire.
And now, in a struggle similar to the one I faced in my history exam, I feel I have done the best I can to articulate a movement, an idea that I do not yet fully have the ability to. Comparing across generations is hard, because no one person can equally experience more than one, as their life will have fundamentally changed with the passing of time and the accumulation of experiences. The Intentional doesn’t seek to define a point in time, or a generation’s struggles or successes, but just to exist as a marketplace of ideas, an exercise in the necessity of examining both the challenges and the benefits of the world as it is and should be. In doing this, it serves as a living testament to the current moment with a promising outlook on the future we will create.
The Intentional launch party was an actual, real‐time display of the millennial’s resourcefulness that has developed in order to keep advancing things like art and music in a challenging climate. The artists’ emphasis on civic engagement, community involvement and and mutual reinforcement of the arts and culture in Washington elevated both those that were present and those that will read their words‐ both today and as the next eager generation seeks to understand just a fraction of the values of the generation before. Now on my coffee table, next to the large, dynamic chronicles The 1960s and The Beats, there are my two new issues of The Intentional.