What follows is our official exit interview with Amanda Sari Perez, who just recently left Ann Arbor for Pittsburgh.
MARK: OK, let’s start at the beginning. What’s your name, where were you born, and what kind of kid were you?
AMANDA: All right then. My name is Amanda. Or Salamanda. Or YakYak. Or AmandaPanda. I was born in Hong Kong, but I was only there for two weeks. And I was the kind of kid who could play with insects for hours. Actually that’s the kind of adult I am now, too.
MARK: Why so many aliases?
AMANDA: I have friends who like to give me weird names. In the case of YakYak, a friend sent out a message inviting a group of us to ride their yaks. I was so excited by the idea of riding live yaks that I started looking up images on Google and sending photos of the animal to our message thread, exclaiming, “Oh my god, guys, we get to ride yaks!” I remember the owner responded, “Just watch out for the fleas!” Well, a few days later, I showed up in the countryside to ride these yaks, only to find out that they’d been referring to kayaks. Apparently they’d started f*ing with me once they realized I’d completely misunderstood. In my defense, the friend with the kayaks is totally the kind of person who would own live yaks. (I’m looking at you, Trudi Cooper.)
[above: A photo taken just seconds after Amanda was christened “YakYak”.]
MARK: You mentioned having a love of insects as a kid. What is it about them that interested you?
AMANDA: When I was young, I just found them inherently fascinating to watch. I think there’s something sort of machine-like about them, and yet they’re living. They seem like simple organisms because they’re so small and appear emotionless. But biologically, they’re just as complex as we are. Their small size makes them seem more approachable to me. They’re also just a visually beautiful part of nature.
MARK: Why is it that you left Hong Kong after just two weeks?
AMANDA: Well, the backstory is that my parents moved around a lot for my dad’s job (he worked as a petroleum engineer), and when my mom was pregnant with me, they were living in Beijing, China. At that time, Hong Kong belonged to the British. My mom flew to Hong Kong a few days before I was born just to pop out her kid in British territory, and then we all went back to China.
[above: Amanda, seen second from right, celebrating “Sports Day” at her international school in Libya.]
MARK: How did your parents meet?
AMANDA: My dad, who’s from Bolivia, took a job in Indonesia, where my mom is from, and they met while working at the same company. They started dating, and eventually my mom moved with him when he had to leave the country for his next job. I once asked her what she had wanted out of life when she was younger. Her response was, “I wanted to see the world… and I got more than I could have hoped for.”
MARK: What’s your first memory?
AMANDA: Good question! I have a very fuzzy snapshot of my first day of preschool. I think I remember my mom dropping me off. And a Care Bear thermos, there was a Care Bear thermos… Do you remember your first memory?
MARK: Yeah, that’s the reason I ask people that question. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this one very distinct memory of being a really young kid. We were living in Monticello, Kentucky at the time, so I was probably about two years old. It was daylight outside, and my mom must have just put me down for a nap. The window was open, and I remember looking up at this yellow curtain, just watching in blow in the breeze. It was just this perfect moment on a warm day, laying there in the sunlight, listening to the sounds outside my bedroom window… So, back to you… What brought you to Ann Arbor?
AMANDA: College, about twelve years ago. Admittedly, I went to college because it was the “next thing” to do, and I never considered not going. When I was choosing schools to apply to, I liked Michigan because it was far away from Texas.
MARK: What was it about Texas that you were hoping to escape?
AMANDA: I think I just didn’t really fit in Houston. That’s the more diplomatic answer. The way I experienced it at the time was: I felt like an outsider, especially since I was foreign. When I was 10 years old, I encountered some bigotry there. We left, and then returned when I was 14. I found the culture of my high school to be insular and very image obsessed, which made me feel isolated and depressed. Especially in those inexperienced teenage years.
MARK: And did you find what you were looking for in Ann Arbor? Was it the proper antidote for Texas?
AMANDA: Over time, absolutely. I found people who were open minded and down-to-earth. I found people who were actively creative. Perhaps most importantly, I found a sense of community and some purpose in that. I hadn’t understood, prior to that, how helpful it feels to belong to something.
[above: Night out at Burning Man.]
MARK: So, do I understand correctly that you just recently left Ann Arbor?
AMANDA: Yep, I left at the end of August.
MARK: When did you decide that it was time for you to leave? Was there a specific moment?
AMANDA: Not exactly. I’d been feeling stuck for years, working as a research associate — basically a lab technician, which, in academia, is not a career you can progress far in. And I wasn’t doing it for the love of it. The decision to move was more about finding something I loved doing that was also a stable career. It wasn’t really about leaving. But, that said, I figured my best bet to progress was to get trained in grad school, and I knew it would be better if I started in a fresh environment without all the history of my undergrad years. (Long story short, I was not a model student back then. In some ways, I was still dealing with issues from my years in Texas.)
I was afraid to apply to grad schools because my undergrad GPA wasn’t stellar, and in general, I was hard on myself for being irresponsible. It’s why I put off applying for so many years. The positive side is that I gained a lot of work experience and spent a lot of time working on creative projects on the side. It gave me time to piece all my interests together and develop some direction. It was also time that I used to really confront questions like: what was I so afraid, or ashamed of, and why didn’t I trust myself? So I applied one year, didn’t get in anywhere, applied the next year, and, by some grace, I got into the school I wanted most.
MARK: How did Ann Arbor change over the time that you were here?
AMANDA: Well, there are definitely a lot more condos now. When I first arrived here, State Street still felt quaint. I remember all the students went to Shaman Drum Bookshop to get their textbooks, and I wouldn’t have ever imagined a Walgreens or CVS. Not that I’m really complaining about CVS — I liked the convenience of being able to buy toiletries within walking distance. But Ann Arbor has definitely been losing its unique townie vibe and local shops to national chains.
MARK: So where will you be going to grad school, and what are you hoping to study?
AMANDA: I’m at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh now. I’m in the Biomedical Engineering program. There’s a second component, which I’ll start next year, and that’s a technology and innovation management program.
MARK: I really like Pittsburgh. Be sure to check out the Warhol Museum.
AMANDA: Oh yeah? Okay, I hadn’t even heard of it yet. I’ll be sure to check it out. Let me know if there’s anything else you recommend around here.
MARK: My kids like to ride the Duquesne Incline. And the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is worth some time. Oh, and be sure to eat sandwiches with french fries on them. And I know there was a bar that I liked. I can’t remember the name, though. All I can remember is that it was a little place, and King Kong was playing on a television. And I think it may be within walking distance of a brewery inside of a church, where we had dinner just beforehand.
AMANDA: Yeah, I really want to go up the Incline. I’ve heard that the view is gorgeous. I went on a little boat tour along the rivers, and the landscape of this city is really stunning. Sandwich with french fries — noted. And I’ll be on the lookout for bars that are likely to play King Kong.
MARK: And what would the ideal career be after graduating?
AMANDA: Part of the next two years in this program is figuring out exactly that. I came here because I wanted to work on motor rehabilitation (i.e. devising solutions for people who have lost some motion, like from limb loss or paralysis). For now, I just want to get a better understanding of the physiological problem, how it’s being addressed by the biomedical community, and what is its place in the biotech industry. So it’s a little difficult to say while I’m still naive about it, and I would like to work at a biotech company, probably as a product manager. However, I’ve thought several times about opening up a rehabilitation center that combines helpful technological intervention with more holistic approaches to help people reintegrate into their bodies after trauma. I just imagine if I ever lost the ability to move around freely, what would be necessary for me to feel like I’ve regained my sense of agency. I’d like to ask that of patients.
All that said, I’ve heard some good advice recently (from several people who didn’t know they were offering good advice) to focus more on finding the skills that I love rather than the goal career.
MARK: If I remember correctly, our paths first crossed about three or four years ago, when the other members of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation and I voted to give you a $1,000 grant to build a dome. Is that right?
AMANDA: Yeah! That’s right. Thanks for that. Constructing that dome was a really fun group experience, and it’s been used many times by different people since. The Awesome Foundation is really, well, awesome. It’s really awesome for the board of trustees to volunteer their time and money to fund cool ideas like that.
[above: The first time assembling the dome.]
MARK: What, if anything, will you miss about Ann Arbor?
AMANDA: Oh god, what won’t I miss… I’ll probably miss the people the most. I miss them already. I met lots of down-to-earth, creative people over the years that became close friends. I could go on for a long time about how inspired I am by these people. The whole town is really friendly, too. It feels like most people are approachable. I’ll miss the easy access to the river and the wooded areas around it. And I’ll miss the opportunities that Ann Arbor offers — for instance the Awesome Foundation you mentioned. I felt like if I wanted to do something on a community scale in Ann Arbor, it was a small enough town that I could find space to do it, but large enough to find good people to join. And until I find an adequate replacement, I miss freshly squeezed OJ from Sparrow Market.
MARK: What are you most proud of having accomplished while you were here?
AMANDA: Probably the projects I did with Syncytium. That’s the group of people who builds projects for Burning Man and Lakes of Fire, but over time, some of us focused on displaying them at home in Ann Arbor. I’m really proud of an immersive, interactive game project that was the brainchild of me, Theresa Carranza, and Suby Raman. We really put forth the ideas we wanted to see most, and we made it happen. I’d say I’m most proud of the community, friendships, and sense of creative exploration that Syncytium fostered. It has a lot of heart, and some wickedly skilled people… On a personal note, I’m proud that I faced some past baggage over the last two years to finally move forward with my life, and I’m so grateful to the people who helped me with that.
[above: Cutting metal struts for the Breaking Protocol game.]
MARK: How did you first get involved in the Ann Arbor maker scene?
AMANDA: After college, I realized I’d spent a lot of time taking in ideas, but not a lot of time producing the ideas that I had. I got tired of just talking about what I wanted to do, and I got tired of hearing other people just talk about what they wanted to do. So in 2009, I started a small “Do It Club” with some friends, where we made a few of our ideas into reality (fondest memory: creating Pacman out of two shopping carts for the shopping cart race). It was small, but it felt really good to create something with my hands. About a month into that, I got an email from Josh Williams introducing me to Bilal Ghalib, who was returning to town and wanted to start a makerspace. That’s how I was introduced to the concept of makerspaces and DIY fabrication, and so a handful of us started All Hands Active, the makerspace downtown.
MARK: And your interest has just grown since then?
AMANDA: Yeah, it started with Bilal. He inspired me. He made me believe that I had the power to create things, and make change. And then the maker scene and Burning Man culture instilled the notion that, if I want to create something that doesn’t exist, I could pull the resources together to make it happen. It’s been an amazing ride of physically building large installations (like the dome, and the immersive interactive game), going through the creative process with a group, and being open to learning new skills that were initially intimidating.
[above: Sunrise at Burning Man in found Tyvek suits.]
MARK: As you brought up Burning Man, I’m curious to know what you think of its evolution. It seems, over the last few years, I’ve just been reading more and more about how it’s becoming a playground for the super rich.
AMANDA: You know, that’s true, there are pockets where very rich people pay to have their whole experience catered to them, but I’ve personally never run into them. It’s a newer part of Burning Man, and it makes sense for some media outlets to want to expose that, but its actual presence at the burn is not proportional to the amount of media attention it gets. It also doesn’t have a big effect on the other attendees (as far as I know). At the end of the day, you go, you give what you want to give, you let yourself be as vulnerable as you want to be, and that is what determines the sort of experience you’ll have. In my opinion, if people pay a lot of money to avoid work, or facing the harsh elements of the desert, they’re missing out on a lot of what Burning Man has to offer.
I’d say the more troubling thing I saw the last couple of times I went was a lot of newcomers who weren’t familiar with the culture, and maybe just thought it was a scene to party. It takes a critical mass of veterans, even people who were just there for one year, to set an example and keep passing on the culture that this is a community effort, and it’s really about giving and being engaged. I didn’t go last year or this year, though, so I can’t say if that’s still true. I heard this year was amazing though, especially with the incredible art!
MARK: So, you didn’t go?
AMANDA: Nope, I took a break from the burn because it consumes a fair amount of time and money, if you want to invest yourself like that. And I’m glad I did. But I started neglecting other parts of my life, and these last two years I wanted to spend that time preparing for grad school and taking courses related to my field.
MARK: If the people of Ann Arbor were to build a statue of you, commemorating the time that you spent here, where would it be, and what would the statue of you be doing?
AMANDA: I think I would feel really awkward having a statue. Unless it was like me with a chipmunk on my shoulder or something. Or riding a yak. One thing that came to mind was a little monument of stones on a little raft that could be floated down the river, like the way they sent off old eskimos on ice floats. The other thing that came to mind was a statue made of bacon, probably because it’s one of the foods associated (somewhat jokingly, somewhat seriously) with Burning Man. At the very least, I’d like it to be made of something edible that people could eat and enjoy, and it would be at my friend Matt K’s backyard, where we built most of our recent projects while people shot BB guns at paint cans in front of a bonfire.
[above: On the raft build for Float Fest.]
MARK: Any parting words for the people of Ann Arbor?
AMANDA: To the city and to people I know: thanks, and I love you. To the general population: float down the cascades with a group of people on an air mattress, you won’t regret it.
[Curious as to why people are leaving this place we call home? Check out the Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview archive.]
Juan Cole, Leni Sinclair, and the YpsiGlow project …on this weekend’s edition of the Saturday Six Pack
The Saturday Six Pack will be back on the air this weekend, and it has all the makings of a great show.
Our first guest will be esteemed University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole. An expert on the Middle East, Cole came to be a household name shortly after 9/11, as our nation geared up for war. Hoping to both provide context for the events unfolding across the Middle East, and dispel the myths being shared as fact by the American media, Cole launched the blog Informed Comment in 2002, earning him an enormous following among those on the left who, like me, were unwilling to just accept the narrative being put forward by the likes of George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Cole’s pointed criticism of the United States and Israel over the next several years, however, would also lead to a great many attacks against him from the right, including a coordinated campaign in 2006 that would successfully keep him from a position at Yale. These are all things, I suspect, that Cole I will be discussing once we go live on Saturday evening, along with his thoughts on the current presidential race. [I’m interested to know what he thinks of the policy positions articulated by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump thus far concerning the Middle East.] And, of course, we’ll be talking about his most recent book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East, his thoughts on the evolution of jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the lasting impact of the Arab Spring… Oh, and if things go well, and if time allows, I might ask how I compare to Stephen Colbert as an interviewer.
Then, during our second segment, we’ll be joined by activist, photographer, and co-founder of the White Panther Party, Leni Sinclair, with whom we’ll be continuing the conversation we began a few weeks back with her former husband, John Sinclair. So, if you’re at all interested in the radical history of Michigan, be sure to tune in as we discuss everything from the founding of the Detroit Artists Workshop to her decision to leave SDS and head out on a more radical path, intent on smashing the system with an army of dropouts, hippies and dope fiends. [Those, by the way, are John Sinclair’s words, and not mine.]
And, in our third and final segment, we’ll be talking with Adriana Zardus and Jeri Rosenberg of WonderFool Productions, the entity that produces FestiFools and FoolMoon each April in Ann Arbor, about their work over the past several months to create an Ypsi-centric public art event that they’re calling YpsiGLOW.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, HERE ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:
Unless you live inside the AM 1700 studio, chances are you won’t be able to pick the show up on your radio. As that’s the case, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.
And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.
Oh, and if you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about this, our 50th anniversary broadcast, feel free to share the Facebook event listing.
And, here, thanks to AM 1700 senior graphic designer Kate de Fuccio, is this week’s poster, in case any of you want to print copies and leave them at one of the highway rest areas that you frequent.
And do call us if you have a chance. We love phone calls. So please copy down this number and slide it into your sock – 734.217.8624 – and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. The show, as you know if you listen, gets exponentially better with each phone call.
With the news media having failed the American people so incredibly this election cycle, and the very real possibility of a Trump presidency looming in the not too distant future, numerous people and organizations, some of whom who have never weighed in on such things in the past, are beginning to come forward publicly in hopes of shaking the American people awake and convincing them not to cast their ballots for the orange goblin that the withered husk of the Republican Party has selected as its nominee.
A few weeks ago, as you may recall, 50 former national security officials, all of whom served under Republican presidents, came out and said that they would not be voting from Trump, as he would be “the most reckless president in American history”. Then, today, 75 career diplomats came out saying they would not be supporting Trump, as, in their opinion, he is “entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief.” Oh, and then there was the news a few days ago about how the elder George Bush has told people close to him that he will be voting for Hillary Clinton. These are all things that never would have happened in past elections, and I think it speaks volumes as to just how seriously terrifying the prospect of a Trump Presidency is to individuals who understand what’s at stake.
And I suspect that we’ll see a lot more of this as election day draws nearer and the polls begin to tighten… more people coming forward, pleading with their fellow citizens to do the right thing and not vote to put a violent, racist, non-tax paying, reality television-spawned hate monger in the White House… Speaking of which, just a few days ago, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban not only went public with his concerns, but actually put up $10 million of his own money in order to help derail the Trump campaign… Today, though, something really interesting happened in Hollywood. Industry players came out swinging against Trump with a big one, two punch.
First, came a video put out by Joss Whedon, the man who came to fame with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and now, as I understand it, is responsible for a majority of the super hero projects coming out of Hollywood. I know some will write off the 3-minute ad featuring the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson as just one more instance of wealthy, far-left, and condescending actors telling hard working Americans what they need to think, but it’s really incredibly brilliant. Not only does it address that potential criticism head-on, by proactively stating that they’re parading a “shit ton” of celebrities across the screen to motivate us by repeating inspiring words and phrases, but, just when you’re thinking that this is just a really clever PSA urging people to register to vote, Don Cheadle comes onto the screen to tell us, without mentioning Trump by name, how imperative it is that we vote in order to keep “a racist, abusive coward who could permanently damage the fabric of our society” out of office. Boom! …I’m sure there will be other campaign ads this cycle, and I suspect that some will be very effective, but I’m pretty confident that, when all is said and done, this will be my favorite. It’s funny. It’s smart. And it packs a hell of a wallop. If you’ve yet to see it, please check it out, and share it with everyone you know.
And, second, it was announced today that Idiocracy, Mike Judge’s biting, cautionary tale about a future America where a stupid, reality television obsessed citizenry is led by politicians who look and behave like professional wrestling managers, will be coming back into theaters. Here’s the trailer for the film, which will play locally at the Michigan Theater on October 4… Again, if you feel so inclined, please share it.
I know it’s kind of anti-democratic, but I’ve started work on a new project that I think has a lot of potential. I’m putting together a list of “The Best 10 Ways to Keep Your Older White Relatives from the Polls Come November 8.” I know I can do better, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
1. Tell them that the minute they leave their house for the polls, Obama’s going to send Van Jones and Bill Ayers sneaking in and take their guns.
2. Explain to them that, because there’s no way Hillary will live through Election Day, Trump will win by default, regardless of the vote.
3. Tell them that Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy are going to be on Fox and Friends in just a few minutes to announce a new Cracker Barrel clothing line. Every time they reach for the doorknob, tell them that it’s just about to happen. Keep doing this until the polls close.
4. Tell them that, because of an executive order signed by Obama, all white people and black people are going to be swapping polling places this year, which will likely mean that they’ll be stuck in line for hours on end in a community center somewhere.
5. Remind them that the Pilgrims didn’t vote, and they were God’s chosen people.
6. While they’re asleep, create a postapocolyptic hellscape in their front yard, making them think that the world is ending… Be sure to include burning cars, black helicopters, and projections of their neighbors being raptured up to heaven.
7. Just scream “Benghazi” in their faces until they collapse in orgasm. Repeat this every time they stand up.
8. Have someone call their house pretending to be the beloved draft dodger turned sex offender Ted Nugent, asking them to drive to the border right this instant to help keep out the Mexican rapist drug lords who are trying to come into America to vote for Hillary.
9. Tell them about a theory you read on a blog somewhere about how, inside every “Make America Great Again” hat, Hillary’s team of god-hating scientists have built in a tiny microchip that, when it comes into contact with a voting machine, will force its wearer to vote for Hillary… turn gay for 24 hours… and then commit suicide.
10. Tell them Obama’s secret black army is being deployed at polling places across America to round up Trump supporters and ship them off to reeducation centers run by the transgender, multi-cultural communists of Acorn.
11. Tell them that, on election day, Obama will be targeting white polling places with chemtrails designed by Kenyan scientists that will turn their brains to mush so that they can be more easily enslaved.