I directly invited Dan to participate here because as I've gotten to know him, I’ve come to understand his heart for bringing people together. When I started talking with Dan early in 2018, he was the manager of The Commons - a café that I frequent. We began planning the end of the year show for this project and became more and more familiar with each other throughout that process. We postponed this interview for a couple months as Dan was assuming his new role as owner of The Commons. The tone of the interviews change slightly when I interview someone who I already know versus when I interview a stranger. And I’m able to push a little harder and dig a little deeper because there’s already an established level of trust. That’s particularly evident in this interview. If you don’t already know Dan, I’m happy to introduce you to him here. And if you do know him, I’m delighted to facilitate your learning even more about him.
ACT: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
DB: Well, my full name is Daniel Edward Baumann. I was born in the Midwest - in Wisconsin. To describe myself as a person, I think I just... I don't know. That's a tough question. I'm a jack of all trades, I think. I've done a lot of different things in my life and I don't think I'm master at anything, but I have a lot of skills and I can bring a lot to the table when I'm working with people. And I would consider myself a team player. I was a Boy Scout. All those things, I've found, have culminated into who I am. I live by that set of standards of treating people as I want to be treated and I think that's gotten me where I am in life right now.
My personality is one.. a lot people say pessimistic (laughs), but I say realist. If there's gonna be a flaw in something, I usually try and find that flaw ahead of time or plan for it, at least. And I want to be the person that's prepared to deal with issues or deal with things as they come up. But, in doing so, I feel like I can address a lot of variable situations. I guided rafts; I coached snowboarding - all the stuff that I've done in my past has taken a lot of planning. I was a teacher for a while - I went to school for teaching. I did a lot of management stuff. It all kind of culminates into being prepared and being able to act on my feet, which I think I'm good at.
And I think that's my personality. I get called Dad a lot (laughs) because I fill that role in a lot of situations. And I think it's something that is endearing, but also can be a label in some way. I also get relied on a lot for being in that role. But I don't think I would trade who I am for anybody (laughs). To be honest, I'm really happy.
ACT: This question has become really complicated to ask.
DB: That first question was complicated to answer (laughs).
ACT: There might be a theme here, then. I want to say "What concerns you?" and I would like to leave it at that, but what I want to know is on a regular basis as you go about your life, what is that breaks your heart and makes you sad and affects you - about society or community or humanity or whatever? And then what motivates you to do something about that? What is it that continues to kind of encourage you to keep going?
DB: Man! I think there's so much... there's a lot of materialism and negativity in the world today. And I think... I don't know.... I feel like a large part of the population has kinda lost it's way. And that bothers me. I actually get a little emotional about that... (long pause and tears).
I've been having these moments lately where it's... I think it's just 'cause I'm having a kid. This is not expected. But to face the reality as a father. And my wife doesn't know this - that I get like this. It kinda scares me. I don't know. I just feel like there's so much shit going on in the world that it scares me to bring up a kid in it. And I want the best possible life for them. (Sighs) This is almost like therapy (laughs). Jesus! Sometimes it hits ya.
But, with that being said, I don't think we could be in a better place. I don't think I could be in a better place for brining somebody into the world - outside of having my parents right next door. I think there's a very strong community here of people that really care about other people. But there's also the flip side of that where we have a community that... I think they want to be a part of something, but there's a selfishness. And I just want to be part of the loving community here, which is why this place here means so much to me. 'Cause I feel that love every day when I'm working here. This place speaks a lot to me. Being downtown - there is a good, positive energy here. Like I said, in general, I know there's a very supportive community here that looks on the bright side, I guess. And I want to be close to that and part of that and be able to raise my child with that.
And I don't want to be naive to what's going on in the rest of the world or why I'm feeling this way right now, but I want to be able to embrace what I know I can here. And not necessarily grasp at straws or try and create this perfect community or world, but accept what I have going for me here and where I can bring a child into. I don't know if this is at all answering your question. I'm just kind of rambling, I guess. It's kinda heavy.
ACT: It's super heavy. It's heavy by design. It's interesting hearing you talk - it's almost like I'm interviewing myself. I have the same struggle. Not to say that I know exactly what you're going through, but I have that heaviness about things, too. And I feel it every day. And more days than not it brings me to tears, so I'm familiar with this. I also think it's very important to have people with this outlook. Right? To stand as some sort of check or balance for the people that are the bright-siders or the people that are kind of just in the game of - right now it seems to be - materialism and consumption. So, if everybody was that way, I think we'd have some serious problems.
DB: Yeah. I guess to relate to that, my upbringing was you make do with what you had and wore shit out. Like, I'm still using this phone that I can't even talk into (laughs) because I don't want to give in to getting something new. And that's... I don't know. My family's always done a lot with not a whole lot. We were never poor or anything, but it was just the way both my mom and my dad's family was Midwest-raised. They grew up on a farm and you used everything until you couldn't use it anymore - it was fully broke. Honestly, another part of it is like you can't buy anything anymore that lasts longer than two years (laughs). I find myself looking for old tools.... and I brought a tractor from 1973 or '74 and it runs. It feels like everything was built better and we're looking at conveniences now. I don't know. That's a-whole-nother situation where stuff is just... use it for six months to two years and then you get something new and get something new. I don't know how anybody feels like anything is theirs or they care about anything. It's just like everything's disposable. And I don't want that. I want something that I know I can work with or people around me that I know care about that stuff. I don't know. It's a lot (laughs). I think that's a lot to do with it. Again, it's like a lot of people have lost their way. And they're very easily influenced. And I don't know what causes that.
ACT: What do we mean to each other as individuals?
DB: Again, I think there's a spectrum. On one hand, you have people - they're more and more about me and I and How do I get ahead, How do I get this, How do I get...? And the competition has been pushed to a point of they're not even noticing other people. Then the far other, and it's like fully team players and like, What's mine is yours and all that kind of stuff. And I want to say most people are kind of in between there. The way I view other people is as people. I often find myself questioning, Where does this person go next? I deal with people all the time here. Some of them I get to know; some of them I try to get to know; some of them, obviously, they don't want you to get to know. But I want to be able to see people for who they are. And I think the more people that can do that - at least acknowledge that not everybody gets to go home and be happy and leads the same life as you - not necessarily walk in somebody's shoes, but accept that those are different shoes and they have it different. I think the more people you can expose yourself to and get to know or at least attempt to get to know, I think the better off you are as a person.
I would say in my career doing customer service and all this kind of stuff, I'm very thankful to have gotten to know the people that I have and kind of have a better understanding of humanity and what makes people tick, too. I think there's a side of customer service that you have to be able to quickly recognize people's needs and desires. And if you're able to do that - a quick transaction or a quick conversation can happen - and you kinda gain all the information you really need to make that person happy. And in my job role, that's kind of what I want to do is make sure people leave happier than [how] they came in. I think there's a lot of jobs out there that that's not the case - it's trying to beat the other person. I don't know - I feel like I'm a little philosophical on that one (laughs). Again, it's these things that you don't really think about until you're asked them.
I think if people were to view me, a lot of the time people think I can be cranky or stressed out just because I have the resting bitch face. I'm either thinking about something... and I don't know have the friendliest disposition. So, I think that's one barrier if people can break through for me, they'll find something different. I hope. I don't know (laughs). I think I have a crust on me that needs to be broken here and there.
I just wish people saw other people more often. And not just looked at them, but actually saw them. Okay, this person's obviously in pain or struggling with something. And not just to brush that off, but kind of take it and.... even seeing people help other people in these conditions outside right now is pretty heartwarming.
ACT: That a good segue. If that's the individual level, what does community mean to you? And, talk about philosophical, how did that word come to be a thing that people desire? Where does that whole thing come from? And why is it important?
DB: I mean, I don't know the root of the word, but I think, to me... I grew up in a church and every time somebody talks about community I kind of think back to that. It was a Methodist church, so it wasn't Catholic or Lutheran or something.... our church was more focused on who the people that were surrounding you were and how you can support each other and stuff like that. And I think a lot of what I envision [of] community does derive from that. But now I've definitely transformed into something like more of an acceptance of people. Most of the time with a commonality or common thought in mind, but I do believe that to have a stronger community base, you have to have differences. There has to be differences brought to the table and I think that makes everybody stronger within that.
If I were to describe more specifically a community of people, I would say there's community that surround say... at least locally, our athletic community. Like I said, common-minded people - they want to pursue all the outdoor activities. And that's a cool community to be a part of. There's also a community here that is very musical, which I love being a part of. I'm not musical myself, but in my role here I'm able to facilitate people that... I get to see that community come together. There's an arts community. So they all kind of have this common, main goal. The coffee community here is huge, too. That's another part of why I'm here and what I decided to pursue. That's a pretty cool community. There's a lot of passion that goes into producing a cup of coffee and a lot of background to that. And a lot of people either recognize that or they just love the flavor and the taste and they just want to be part of something. I don't know.
Outside of that there's a lot small communities here, but what it means together is kinda coming together and you all have something in common. And if you're part of that, hopefully you're also learning from the other people that are part of that community. And you're able to grow alongside each other, with each other, and support each other and kind of have each other's backs, in some ways. Or be able to teach and learn for that focused community. But broader than that, all these little sub-communities actually makes our bigger circle more diverse. And in that even a stronger community feel is where you start tying in people - somebody that's into mountain biking over here but they also play guitar and they also cross-stitching or whatever. (Laughs) There's all these little, tiny niches that consider themselves a community, but they're also part of this gigantic one. And I think the more of those you have and the more of those you can support and really draw strength from and learn from, I think as human beings, we become more full and more feel a part of something.
And - at least it's my theory - if you feel like you're a part of something, you tend to not dive down the rabbit hole of something that could possibly be a negative thing for you or for others. I think if you have other people around you - support you and learn from and teach and all that kinda stuff -if you have other people that hold you accountable and you hold them accountable. And I think that's also part of being part of community is that accountability aspect. You can't always just do what you want. I think that's also really important. You end up getting these social norms within these small communities and it kinda keeps people put together and in bounds, per se.
ACT: What are your thoughts on these communities of people who are out of bounds - a community of racists or the KKK or groups of men who don't really challenge each other's ethics and support each other in their shittier behaviors and don't help their neighbor in the snow and don't let someone in in traffic and do live a life that even though it's interactive with all of these other people is purely seemingly selfish? Does it affect you and what do you do in your brain to get through it? This is a long question, but how do you have your values and want to perpetuate them without it being proselytizing?
DB: I see what you mean. To be completely honest, and why I feel so supported here, I'm not exposed to that here on the regular. So, it is somewhat of a bubble here... in Bend, in general. When you have a group that the majority of people would see as a negative - like a racist group or something like that - they probably consider themselves a community based on a common value or something... I don't know. That's hard. I don't think I've ever been face-to-face exposed. So, I guess that would be a weakness in my view of everything is I'm not exposed to that on the regular or I don't allow myself to be and I don't foresee myself being the person to search that out and try and change that. I think I'm more the person of supporting positivity or the people around me in hopes that person will go on to something and show that positivity or at least acknowledge other people and let it grow that way as opposed to going right to something.
I don't know [if] being part of one of those groups or something like that if you can (sighs) really rely on and feel like you're learning from the other people in that community. I feel like groups that coalesce or come together around hating or disliking other people for some reason, I would question whether those people are willing to work with each other or truly stand next to each other or accept the other's differences when they come together based on one thing they see as negative. Does that make any sense? I think that there's that unwillingness to accept or learn from people outside of your group or even others within your group if they don't see eye-to-eye with you on something. Maybe I'm totally off-base on this. I don't know.
To me, to be a part of something that is pretty focused on excluding or for whatever reason not liking another race or another human being kind of puts up a barrier or a wall. There's something wrong there. I don't know if that's a true community. Coming back to the church example, churches accept - I mean, they're supposed to - they accept people from all over. At least the one I was part of - they embraced diversity and they understood the more viewpoints and perspectives that you can include in that community, the better off everybody was within. And I think the groups outside of that that are, like I said, more focused on exclusionary stuff, I think they're missing that key component of actually being a community and having an effect, I think, overall. Yeah, they're gonna affect people, but not in a direction that's gonna be long-lasting. I think history has proven that the more exclusionary you get in your beliefs, your lifespan is short-lived. There again, I could be totally off (laughs).
ACT: Do you feel a sense of purpose or a compulsion to be a certain way? And do you feel a sense of responsibility to affect positive change?
DB: Yeah. For sure. Going back to my very emotional answer, I think now more than ever, if I want to be here and even though this, admittedly so, is a bubble... but if I can create as much of a positive environment locally... or being able to bring a child into this and having other people and their young kids who are going through the same thing I am now - I think that's a big driver for me to at least create a safe space for this child to come into. That's on a selfish level.
But I think on a bigger level, I want this - and I'm speaking specifically about what I'm doing here, I guess, in this business - I want people to view this place as kind of a safe haven and like they're walking into their grandma's house. With that objective in mind and being able to facilitate that, I think as people visit here and out-of-towners come in or families bring in other family members, I think we can instill something that hopefully can grow a little bit. When we acknowledge people as they walk in the door and that kind of stuff, that goes back to good customer service; it's just being nice to people. And I think if I can cultivate that - and I do honestly feel a responsibility to that - I think we can affect people's days, one, and not only a day, if they can reflect on how they were treated, moving forward, possibly pass it along. Yeah. That's a bit of a weight. But it's something I've always wanted to do.
I want to be surrounded by good people. And the more I can do to facilitate that in a public setting like this, the more likelihood that's gonna happen. So, I guess that's all a little selfish, but I think in general it's better for people as a whole. And I know I'm not the only one (laughs) that has that feeling and that objective and they've taken their station in life to do what they can to basically make somebody's day or help people. That's what I want to keep doing - whether it's in a career or in general. I've just found it the most satisfying, I guess, in life is being able to do that and keep people happy.
ACT: Do you want to ask me anything?
DB: How do you feel this project is going? And is there a commonality within answers from people. Obviously there is because it's part of this thing, but I don't know... now that you made me think about this a little bit more, (laughs) I don't know if I'm actually part of this bigger community or if I'm just selfish. I don't know, do people reflect that way, I guess?
ACT: How do I feel this project is going is a question probably better answered by my partner (laughs) who witnesses the effects of it on me. I have a super heavy-hearted answer for this. And I don't know if that's due to being in it too deep or having my myopic vision or if it's due to having a sense of urgency, but there's different ways to answer it.
On the whole, as an undertaking - as an endeavor for my career as a documentary photographer or photojournalist - in the here and now, I often wonder, "What am I doing?" and "Why?" and "Who cares?" because I see the numbers of people who engage with it electronically on the analytics on my website and on Instagram and they don't match up to my effort by any stretch of the imagination. So, that's very frustrating. That hurts me deeply. It also makes me question my own metrics; it makes me question my own sanity; it makes me question my self-confidence. It affects me in every way.
On the other hand, in the here and now, this project is what lets me sit here with you and grow our relationship and grow our friendship and witness you thinking about things in a different way for maybe the first time. On a person-to-person level, there's nothing better in the entire world than this project. I feel very grateful and moved for the opportunity to sit here with people and have these conversations. And I feel somehow legitimized that people are willing to do it and be audio-recorded and be on the internet and all of this. So, I feel very conflicted about this project. But I also feel - and I don't know to totally deconstruct this - but I feel like it's something I'm supposed to be doing.
I definitely think there's a way that people answer these questions. And it's not so different than how we interact - just to answer the second part of your question. It's not so different than how we engage and interact in the world. We have this tendency to put on airs. I'm not entirely sure what that's about. So, in that, we have a tendency to want to come across in certain ways. And not everybody is as willing to expose their vulnerabilities. I think there's two trains of thought. One of them is modeling that behavior encourages that behavior; it breeds more vulnerability and I think more relational trust and intellectual and emotional growth. The other train of thought is showing those weaknesses is terrible and you need to be seen as stronger in this survival of the fittest kind of way. So, I'm torn about that, too. Because what if the fittest is actually the most empathic or the most compassionate or the most vulnerable? We have this idea that the fittest is this cold, determined, Ayn Rand character of a person who won't let anybody stand in their way and take what they want at all costs. But that's just not the philosophy that I live my life by.
I'm down about the state of the world. And I'm down about humanity. I wake up in the morning and down is where I begin (laughs) and so I have to find things throughout the course of my day and weeks and months and years in life to remind myself that it's not so bad. So, this project is definitely helping me do that. And I think that's also what we have in common is everybody wants it to be better. Some people have a really funny way of going about that or they're confused and they're flawed in that approach. Not that I'm not. I think we all want things to be better. And, generally, we're better if we're encouraging and we're friendly and we're polite and we're honest. Right? And we're all of these things combined into this well-rounded human. I get glimmers of hope from this, but I, like you, make sure that I find all of the weak points and try to hammer them out.
DB: You ask my wife, I will plan and plan and plan and overthink everything, but when shit hits the fan, I typically have an answer. Like you said, things kind of scare me right now, but my sense of community and my sense of the people that I've met and worked with and play poker with every once in a while, I think there's enough strength in those people that I choose - I guess it is a choice - to surround myself with that I feel pretty good. But I also want - and probably most everybody in this project - they want that sense of faith and trust. Trust in other people to grow a little bit more each day. I think, ultimately, that's probably what you want, too. (Laughs) I don't know. Even if it's just this project and letting people.... I'm now thinking about so much I can affect or do or work with others on.
ACT: Do you have any parting words or would you consider those them?
DB: I think that could be that and it could be it. (Laughs) Enough tears today.