Charlie Thiel, 46, at his home

Summer recommended Charlie to me. She offered these praises about him: "He's a photographer/ actor/ father/ husband. He's an unbelievably kind, passionate, and interesting human being. You'll love him." It took a few weeks to line up our schedules, but meeting Charlie was worth the wait. Refreshingly real and thoughtful, Charlie was a pleasure to speak with. In addition to a shared affinity for photography, we also seem to agree on matters of humanity and social justice. Charlie really seems like one helluva good guy. Keep an ear out for his latest project, which he hints at in the interview. 

Who are you?

Who am I? Good Lord, that's always a good question. Well, I'll give you the short little thing that I usually post online and stuff - I am husband, father, best friend, snowboarder, writer, reader, photographer, film maker, general doer of things (laughs), and it all sort of blends together somehow to become me. 

Where do you come from and what brought you here to Bend? 

I was born and raised in the South. I was born and raised in South Carolina. It was interesting because it was always, even as a kid, it was never a good fit for me. I always felt like I didn't quite belong. It was like three years ago, so that would have been early 40s, when we started thinking about the possibility of a big move. And I started looking at stuff in the mountains. I was looking in Colorado, looking in mountain towns, and Oregon started showing up on that list. And Bend started showing up at the top of several lists. And it's funny, as soon as we moved out here, I was like, Oh, this is where I belong. This fits. This is a good fit now. Come from the South, but it never quite clicked. And moved here and it felt right right away. 

What motivates you?

I'd say my kids motivate me. My wife motivates me. Now that I've got this idea - this new philosophy, this new concept that I'm trying to flesh out and develop - that started as just a mental exercise to play with and now I'm getting more and more excited about it. And that is becoming its own motivation - to see if that can really... to see if I can do something with it. See if it'll take hold. See if I can maybe, you know, move the needle a little bit. Maybe improve the world a little bit. So I've not got grand motivations. I'm a fairly lo-key guy and I've got my family, I've got my wife, I've got my kids - that's pretty much made me very content and happy - but maybe I can do a little good in the world, too. We'll see. 

What does community mean to you?

I think it's got to be about... we cannot be completely consumed by ourselves. By just what we want in this life. If we're gonna become anything more than what we have achieved as humankind, we've got to come together. We have to find what connects us. And we start that with the people around us. We start that process by connecting with the people just physically around us, but now we have this amazing tool - the internet - where that connection can be world- wide. There's community at different levels. There is the community of people immediately around us. But I think more importantly, there's the community that we create by what we put out in the world - by the things we stand for, and by caring about people other than ourselves. And by caring about people other than just the ones that look like us. You know? We need to create a community of humanity. This organization, this philosophy that I'm developing is called The Community of Humankind. So that is what I am trying to do - which is help provide a philosophical basis, help provide a grounded basis by which we can look at each other - look at a person across the world, look at someone who looks and is nothing like us - and find that connection. And hopefully help that other person find the connection with you or with me or with us and we can begin to connect as a community. Not based on how we look or not based on the church we go to or not based on where we live, but based on values, based on caring about these other people, this other person as a human being. And connecting with people that share that belief - share the belief that people have value - have intrinsic value. Not because they look like us and talk like us, but just because they are human beings. And so what I think community means is hopefully... it's an aspirational definition to say I want community to mean all the people who believe in the value of human life - the intrinsic value of human life - and believe in the potential of each human being. That's what I want to create a community around.

What do you appreciate most about this community?

One of the things that impressed me about Bend when we first got here is that no one (well, I say no one - a lot of people that we have met and become friends with since we moved here) - they don't end up here just by chance. People make a conscious decision to move to Bend and they make their work life and they make their family life and all that work around the opportunity to live in this place. And, sure, it's partly about access to the lifestyle. But they value that thing where it's not just about work. A lot of people moved here from places where they were putting vast amounts of their day-to-day life into the work they do - either traveling to and from it or just doing their job. People here work really hard at their job, but they do it so that they can live the life they want to live with their kids and with their family and all that. That's why they've chosen to be here. Yeah, it's a really kind of self-motivated group of people that live here in Bend, I think. But it's also people that do that because they are passionate about the type of life they want to live. That is one of the things that I love about Bend and the type of people here and this type of community. People really care about the type of life they want to live and that's why they're here. 

What are your thoughts regarding Bend's growth?

Right. Well everybody comes here and they're like, Okay now that I'm here, let's stop (laughs). You know, there is a bit of that. And you have to sort of laugh at yourself when you find yourself thinking like, Okay now that I've found this place, let's shut the door. You know, you look back at Bend historically - you go back to after the mills closed - this down was dying. The mills were shut down and it was like a chained-off industrial wasteland. And the town was struggling. So I think the growth... they have done a very good job of marketing what Bend is now. Which is, it's a lifestyle. It's a lifestyle town. But they've done a really good job of not tailoring that just to retirees (laughs). You know, people come here for a lifestyle and they make it work with their career. That said, they've almost done that job a little too well. We are one of the fastest growing demographic areas. We're growing incredibly fast. So, the growth is part of the problem. I think the speed of that growth is what the real issue is at hand. It's not that people mind, really, more people coming to Bend. It's the fact that it's happened so quickly. And we live in a state where the urban growth boundary can't expand at the whim of the local community. It took, what, 10 years to get the latest expansion in place. So I think it's more the speed of the growth and our lack of ability to just sort of randomly push outward and throw up tons of new houses. 

I think, too, another factor at work is a lot of that growth is from people coming in from a market that is way higher priced. You know, a lot of Bay area and Silicon Valley stuff. So people see what looks like a high price to people in Bend is still a very reasonable price to people coming in from areas like Silicon Valley and the Bay area. You get bigger houses built. You get more expensive houses built. The construction fees that developers get charged are not variable. I think they're changing it now, but for the longest time it didn't matter if you were building a tiny, little starter home - the amount of fees you paid as the builder were still the same. So you're incentivized to build a more expensive house so that you can actually make money, or make more money, on that construction. So it's a mix of we live in a very desirable place, we've done a very good job of marketing Bend to the outside world, and we only have very limited tools to manage how that growth happens. So, yeah, it is a problem. And there is a real shortage of starter homes and a real shortage of lower-priced housing. But when the demand is so high and when you cannot geographically just blow outwards... there's only so much you can do. I get why people resent the growth because it has happened so fast. And it's starting to have a negative impact on people's day-to-day lives. But I think also we need to keep that in perspective of what a real crowded city looks like. And what traffic with air quotes - you know, people talk about Oh, the traffic's gotten so bad in Bend. It's more crowded - it's busier than it used to be - but it's still not a problem. It's definitely something to focus on, but I think we also need to maybe keep a little perspective as to what the alternative could have been - which is a town that just died. Most rural towns are on their way down, not on their way up. It's something to be thankful for but also not let it grow in a sort of rampant, uncontrolled way. It's a hard thing to juggle. 

How do you feel about how you spend your time?

(Laughs) I will say this. A lot of it comes down to how we manage our time for our family. So, my wife is a sculptor and painter and she also manages her business - her co-working business. Well, if she lets it happen, she never gets time to paint and sculpt. You know, it's always managing the business and managing stuff with our kids and everything else in life. The same goes for me in a sense, that it's really easy to get caught up - like last year our family was caught up in every afternoon... and it quickly got to a point where six days a week we were doing something for the kids or for us. And we were just fried. Like, we were maxed out (laughs). And now we've dialed all that back. Yeah, the kids are not doing the three different after-school activities they were doing last year but really, everybody's a lot happier. And it really comes down to saying no to things. Not doing stuff. It comes down to really asking yourself What is the stuff I really care about doing? What do I really want to do? Yeah, it'd be awesome to have our kids in like four different things and they're playing sports and they're taking music lessons and all that, but it's like then we're all maxed out every day of the week. So, what's really important? Just time with our kids. Time with each other. Time to follow our creative endeavors in addition to managing everything else. So for us it has been a matter of saying no to things and not signing ourselves up for different commitments, not signing our kids up for different commitments. We care about spending time - just spending time together as a family, not necessarily doing something. Just spending time together as a family: messing around in the backyard, going for a walk outside. Yeah, there are a lot of demands on our time. Work and family are kind of the way we've divided that. We try and get our work done in as efficient a manner as possible while still enjoying that process, so that they we have the time to be creative and spend time with our family. So yeah, time is tight. For us, the solution to that was eliminating the things that weren't really really important to us. We're trying now to stay focused on what really matters to us. And, for us, that's our work, our creativity, and our family. Everything else we just have to say no to. And that's stuff that we're interested in. There's a lot of stuff that we are interested in, but there's just not time to do it (laughs). Or if there is time to do it, it just becomes so much to try to do it all that it's not worth it. 

What do you wish for the future?

I instantly go to - I think about what my kids' lives are gonna be like. And I think there's a hell of a lot of exciting stuff happening. In what's happening in science and technology and the world around us and in society - everything is a massive ball of change right now (laughs). I simply want that change to move in a positive direction. Yeah, our kids are gonna be massively challenged with the world they're gonna inherit and the way the workforce is gonna happen and the way society is gonna change, but all of that is just exciting and challenging and it's a massive shift that's happening in our world. I just want that shift to happen in a positive direction. I think we as human beings tend to fluctuate between - it's this pendulum between the people that want us to go backwards and the people that want us to be smaller and the people that want us to be afraid and then we swing over to the people that see the potential and see the positives and, you know, that want to take us into space. You look at what is happening technologically in our world right now - it is mind-blowing and it is incredibly exciting. Our kids are gonna have technological advances that make our childhood and make our lives look archaic. I just want to see all that be in a positive fashion. I want to embrace that and I just want our kids to have a positive future. There are lots of negative - there have always been negative forces - but we have to focus on what it can be, what it should be, what it could be. That's what I want the future to be. I have no idea what it's gonna look like (laughs) because it's changing so quickly, but I just want it to be something uplifting, positive.