I first met Mandy through Shanan Kelley the night I was a guest on The Night Light Show. Shanan auctioned off some T-shirts that I designed and Mandy “won” one for a generous sum. Then, a short time after that, Alyson Brown officially recommended Mandy to this project. It took us some time to meet as I was compiling all of the 2018 interviews into a book and having an exhibition and all that jazz. I am very glad to start off the third year of this project with Mandy and I’m very happy to introduce you to her as the first interview for 2019. She’s a friendly, smiling, warm, caring, thoughtful, and kind lady with a very handsome dog named Booker. We met for this interview above Forge Humanity where she had a pop-up version of her shop Wren and Wild while waiting for her new location to become available.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
My name is Mandy Butera and I am a mother and a new grandmother - or about to be another new grandmother. My daughter just got married, so she just inherited two kids and then my other daughter's having a baby, so I'm excited about that. And a little flipped out by it because you realize you're aging (laughs). Time goes on. I'm a wife, entrepreneur - I have my own business - a yoga teacher, an advanced arial yoga teacher. Yeah, I'm all those things. I'm lots of things. Depends on the day. I'm a dog mom to Booker, which is the best thing (laughs) - he's easy. Happy dog.
What concerns you and then what motivates you to do something about it?
I'm concerned that small business is at risk for many people. I look at the Amazon world and the social media world and the disconnect between people and ordering goods that have no connection to them or being on social media and not really being with people and connecting with people. I'm worried that that's at risk. I think you see it in our current political climate, you know, that there's a lot of anger out there and people are willing to just say anything to anybody, but they're not really connected to people. And I think that if we were all really connected to people a lot of these things wouldn't happen because we'd have a better understanding of who somebody is that's sitting in front of us.
So, I take that back to small business in that being in a small business, I've seen so much - here in Bend, specifically - in that people have lost their leases over the last year - so many business - due to the hiking of lease rates. There's two sides: owners of businesses need to be able to pay their taxes and make their money and, at the same time, small businesses are being shut out or shut down because they can't afford the lease rates. And I still know of a lot of businesses in town that are at jeopardy for that.
And I take that back and equate that to Amazon, for instance, because it's so easy - the click of a button - just to buy something from your home. You can sit in your pajamas and do that. Or you could go out and meet people in your community and make connections with people and help support the people that are in your community so that we have a thriving town. That it isn't just about a small percentage of people thriving here, but more people.
So, I see that as, from a small business perspective of where I'm at, in being able to support people in that manner. So, what am I doing about that? I've recently started mentoring other women who have small business 'cause I've been in business for a really long time - was an account executive for over 25 years with Estée Lauder Corporation and I worked for Macy's as a buyer. So I have all this experience and this knowledge, which is great and it's been really successful for my business, but I feel like that I need to connect with other women in this community and help them to drive business. And help them to forge a path for themselves and maybe learn something new or not make the mistakes that I've made and try and get them going forward. And so, I think that if I can help other women to be successful in that arena, then that's even more connection out in our neighborhoods and in our community to help people.
Do you have a sense of purpose or a compulsion to live with intention?
Yeah, for sure. Well, my purpose right now is really about driving my business into a new location and it's almost just like tunnel vision. I was just thinking the other day I need to go out and hang out with some people (laughs) and connect and do what I know that that's my sense of purpose - to connect with the community. To just find the time. I definitely have a sense of purpose every day that I wake up. And when I come in here it's to connect with whoever comes into the building. To really stop and listen to them. I'm very chatty - I'll find out if they live here or if they don't live here, what are they doing for the holidays - but my sense of purpose is really to connect one-on-one with people. 'Cause that makes me feel good. You know, I feel like I'm part of something.
Live with intention - yeah, definitely. Both my husband and I live very intentionally, very mindfully, in that we live a very simple life. We drive 10-year-old cars and we're not flashy. We don't need things to make us happy. Our intention is to have each other to be happy and to live a really nice life that way. Because I have found over time having all the things doesn't matter, but having people and love and connection in your life - that's what matters. And then I'm very careful about who I choose to be friends with and connect with, too, in that deeper level because I want good, healthy relationships.
What do we mean to each other, individual to individual?
Everything. I mean, we're all interconnected. What scares me are the people that aren't connected - that don't mean anything to other people. You see the shootings in the high schools or in the malls or in businesses. You see the disconnect of people that are addicted to drugs because they don't have a connection. And so I think that we are all interconnected and we're only as good as we're all connected together. And when someone doesn't feel connected or is lonely or is scared or addicted or angry, that's an indication of our community. And how are we embracing and holding people and holding space for people?
What does it mean to you to be human and part of such a vast community with so many differing opinions and agendas?
It's messy, isn't it? (Laughs) It's really messy. I think to be human is just to listen and to just be there for people. It's hard to be human sometimes. Sometimes it's so stressful. And we all go through our ups and our downs and it can be very messy and difficult. And at the other end, it can be super happy and exciting. But I think it's finding that place of peace and calm that whichever way the pendulum swings for the day, that you're set and in place and able to handle whatever comes at you.
Do you have a responsibility to affect positive change? And why?
I feel personally feel responsibility to affect positive change. And I think one small way that I do it now is through educating and advocating for people to use products that are clean; that don't have chemicals in them; that aren't gonna cause issues later in life. There are so many studies about parabens and sulfates and phthalates. So, for me, I feel like I'm an agent of change for positivity and finding a way to use products that are just as effective as things that are loaded with chemicals. So for me personally, that's my mission right now is to help educate people to find a way to take care of themselves in a better stance.
And I also think that we, in a more global or bigger picture, we always have to be an agent for positivity and for good change or where are we gonna be, you know, ten years from now? If you look at the whole climate change and people believing or not believing in it, we have to go out and be positive agents of change in order to affect change. Negative - we see it now and I don't think it works. Scare tactics don't work for people. We don't want to scare people into doing something because that's not long-lasting change. In the short-term, yeah, you can probably scare somebody into something, but it isn't going to change at the core of what the issue is. If you can find a way positively to do it so that it is a constant feel-good down the road - you know, that I made this change and these things happened - then it's great. But if it's just a negative scare at the beginning, you're gonna lose half your audience and the other half are scared. And who wants to walk around scared? Like, if you eat a strawberry with pesticides on it, are you gonna walk around feeling horrible all day? Or could you find a positive way to eat something else without pesticides - I guess would be a simple example - that makes you feel good?
It's almost like this sense of responsibility or this acknowledgement that we've been doing things maybe not the best way is new. I don't know if that's just because I'm in the here and now and that's what I am seeing or if that is the case. For so long we've been filling up the world and doing our thing and maybe not living without intention but kind of just living. But now it seems like there's a big movement towards recognizing that we can't just live anymore, we have to live in a particular way. I wonder if we can get ahead of it.
It's tough. I spent a couple years flying over to Africa - Tanzania; I helped establish a children's pediatric oncology and I did some nutrition for them. And you see people over there who have nothing. These mamas walked in miles and miles with their babies who have huge lumps on their faces and stuff. The whole family comes in and they literally have nothing - nowhere to live, nowhere to stay - but they're happy because they're taking care of each other. They're their own little community and they're holding each other and being at peace with that. And they're good with it. The kids are happy - they're hilarious. They have nothing and they're just so happy 'cause they just see you as a person and they just want to connect and be with you.
So, when I came back from that... I think it was the Olympics or something and the Olympian athletes were complaining there were no doors - do you remember that whole thing? Are you kidding me? You're an Olympian athlete at the highest echelon of what you do and you're concerned you don't have a door?! And I just came from this place where they don't even have a building, right, but they're happy. What is it that we can do for ourselves to create that internal happiness without all the things? And I think all the things and all the trappings and all that stuff is what gets in the way of communities bonding together and finding true connection and happiness.
Do you have anything else you'd like to say?
I think we live in an amazing community, but I think that there's some... there's still a little bit of the haves and the have-nots and how can we bind more? There's some really good community work being done - I can name several of them that I think are amazing - but I think that we still have so much more work to do. It can be a tough place for people to live here. Not being able to afford rent or being able to find a job that pays enough to pay the rent and that kind of stuff. So I think there's just still a lot of community work to be done around that that I'm hoping will happen like in the next year. The economy's been good, but I think there's gonna be a change, you know, and I would hate for the city to go back to where it was in 2008 or 2007. But how can we manifest some really positive change to keep people employed and happy and functioning?
Do you have anything that you want to ask me?
I love that you did a book on it. Was that your first book?
ACT: I've done two so far.
MB: What inspired you to do all this?
ACT: Oh, man. That's quite a question. There's things that I just can't explain - these compulsions or senses, right? Almost like the purpose question. I think it's difficult to answer the question of having a sense of purpose without it having some sort of weird divine or spiritual beginning. And I don't necessarily want to talk about that 'cause that stuff is so unknown and so subjective, but I do have something in me that I can't explain that makes me want to know people around me. And it's grown, too. It's almost like I think that we owe it to each other. And of course everybody's got their different opinions on these things, but when I'm walking down the street, my head's up not just to see where I'm going but just for the chance that I'll make eye contact with someone. I know that it makes me feel a certain way and so I think it probably makes somebody else feel a certain way to be seen, to be acknowledged - even if it's nonverbal. And so I want to know more and more about the people around me. I want to know about what makes this community and this nation and this world function and I want it to be healthier than it is. Because I know about my own pains and my own frustrations and my own failures and I know a lot of them come from these interpersonal connections or missed connections.
So maybe everybody doesn't have this curiosity or this bold tendency to meet with people and then share it with everybody else, but for some reason that came to me. Many years ago I started a project called I Heart Strangers. I was living in Boston and migrated out to Denver in the process. But I went out in the street and I introduced myself to a stranger every day and made their portrait on the spot and then wrote about our exchange together. I did that every day for a year and a half and I quit that project feeling really heavy and feeling like I was kind of throwing away this really cool project. So for the last six years or so, before starting this project, I had this kind of writer's block and I had this really nagging, gnawing frustration about what I was gonna be as a photographer and when I moved here, just two weeks afterwards, the idea for A Community Thread just landed on me. And because of doing something like this in the past, I recognized what it was and I just immediately set it in motion. So, long, convoluted answer, but I'm doing the project because I want to but I also think it's really necessary. These connections that we make are necessary. And maybe this doesn't end with our being best friends, right, but it could. And I think that's much more likely if you try to do something like make a connection with someone than it is if you don't.
MB: I love what you said about just walking down the street with your head up - not buried in your phone... Booker's like an agent of positive change. You walk around with Booker and everybody has to stop and pet him and talk to him. And it makes people happy and then you get to connect with people. It's very powerful to watch it 'cause you can totally make somebody's day. He will get so excited I've seen people cry because they're just so excited about his excitement - it's really cute. The other thing of what you said - just walking down the street, meeting people - I feel like that all the time. You get to meet people. You never know like, who are they? I love to know people's stories - Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing? What are you doing walking down the street? Why'd you come in here today? What's happening? That's life. That's the good stuff right there. Yeah.