Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Writer Wednesday - Shaelyn Amaio

Shaelyn is absolutely one of my very favorite people and has been since I started harassing her in 2011 to send me a copy of her thesis on the presentation of history in Disney’s Magic Kingdom-style theme parks around the world.  It then took me almost two years to read.  This is typical of me, and not at all a statement on her work, which is incredible.  Shaelyn finds amazing historical places and anecdotes, and weaves them into brilliant narrative across the internet, but especially on her blog, Everyday Artifacts. [UPDATE: Shaelyn now lives over at Go there now!]  I not so secretly steal a lot of my poem-inspiration from her discoveries.

Who are you? My name is Shaelyn Amaio, and I like to learn cool things and talk about them with other people. I am primarily interested in places of cultural display -- e.g. museums, theme parks, and world's fairs -- and how learning and leisure intersect in human life. Much of my exploration of these themes is through the lens of public history, because I love to think about the past in order to understand the present and imagine the future.

Where can you be found online?  Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work?  If so, how would you describe it to a stranger you've just met while on vacation? I have a few key places where I share stuff that I think is awesome on the intarwebs. The first, and most ephemeral, is Twitter, where I post as @heyshaelyn. I love Twitter, because it's instantaneous and it provides me with a direct connection to a whole bunch of awesome people. It also forces me to maintain an economy of writing that I have really come to love, and which I won't be doing here. So let me throw in a few extra words: blip, cardstock, scenery.

The second place to get a peak inside my brain is on Pinterest, where I'm simply shaelyn. On those frequent occasions that I fall down an internet rabbit hole, I use Pinterest to leave myself a breadcrumb trail. That way, when I look up from my screen in a daze 6 hours later, I have a way to remind myself that I just learned about what the Unisphere looked like while it was being constructed, war cats in hammocks, and 1948 Buick Streamliners. It's also often where I compile research for whatever post I'm working on, so it's like a little sneak peak.

Lastly, I blog. Sometimes I blog more often than other times. I call home, and it's my chance to write more expansively about whatever adventures I've gone on lately, and about whatever I'm thinking about. Until recently, I was living in New York City, so most of my posts are about sights to see there.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging?  When did it happen? I have been lucky to spend the last few years exploring New York City after moving here to start grad school. At first, I hated living there. It was too big, too expensive, too ridiculous. But once I started exploring the city, I came to love it. There are so many layers to the city, and you never know how it will evolve. Whenever I go on vacation somewhere, I devour museums, historic sites, and other cultural attractions as a way to get my bearings. For some reason, we've all decided that's not a thing you do in your own city, to which I say, pffffffft. I hope to inspire people to explore their own cities shamelessly, or to hang out in my old stomping grounds, NYC. One of my favorite things to do is put together itineraries that rely on adjacencies thematically or geographically, so I'd love to help you out if you're stumped.

I only recently came to the realization that many of the things I love to learn about fall under the umbrella of "history." This was a surprise to me, as I never really got excited about history as a school subject – the focus on learning dates and key figures turned me off. In recent years, though, I've realized that all of the best histories are just great stories that you want to tell your friends (or at least I do) and so I started to write about them on the internet. I used to be a museum educator, and I would tell people that success with museum visitors meant being able to tell a really great story about your content (and being able to point people towards the bathrooms at any given moment); that's been true on my blog, too. I've been lucky to connect with people from a wide variety of backgrounds who might not ordinarily engage with cultural or historical (or touristy!) content, but who seem to like my writing. I really enjoy the community and the challenge that blogging presents in that sense.

I've been writing for a while, but I reinvigorated and refocused my blog within the last 6 or 8 months. It's been really fun!

Why do you write? I'm a pretty earnest and enthusiastic learner and sharer, and my husband, friends and coworkers can only take so much.The blog is a chance for me to release the ideas that otherwise just bounce around in my head all day. I'm pretty sure catching that spillover is the whole point of the internet.

Who inspires you? There are too many to list (including Not Intent on Arriving!), but blogs that fall loosely into the same category as mine include Rainey Tisdale's City Stories and Scouting NY. I also love the inimitable Passport to Dreams Old and New, which is the most thought-provoking, nuanced discussion of themed design that I've come across. And for really great multi-media storytelling that is spooky and darkly funny, I can't look away from Scarfolk Council.

In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? I haven't traveled much, so this is hard! I have always wanted to go to St. Petersburg, though, so let's say that.

What is your favorite place on earth? Can I have two? 1) Flushing-Meadows Corona Park in Queens, the former site of 2 world's fairs and the enduring home of the Unisphere, the Queens Museum, and the New York Mets (3 of my favorite things!). 2) A particular stairway up from the 5th Ave/59th Street stop on the N/Q/R subway lines; you're right on the edge of Central Park, and walking out of the tunnel to see the treetops and sky above you never fails to make me grin.

Anything else you'd like us to know? I've just moved to Montgomery, Alabama, which is totally new to me! I've been a little slow in getting out an exploring (unpacking is a beast, man!), so if anyone has any suggestions or must-sees in the southern US, please let me know!

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