Colleen and I met on Twitter — as one does. The first time we met for coffee, we ended up having the kind of conversation you usually have with an old friend. Soon after, the husbands met. Sandwiches were eaten, cocktails were imbibed. As the questions below reveal, I admire the heck out of Colleen. She is an extraordinary curator of creative living, a merry hostess and a thoughtful friend. Most of all, Colleen makes sh*t happen for herself. She is inspiring… and she makes one hell of a spaghetti sauce. Read Colleen’s blog, check out her marketing company and follow her on Twitter at @cnewvine.
1. You live in Brooklyn, but you spend a lot of time each year in New Orleans, and seem to have a pretty thriving community there. You also lived in San Francisco for a month last year. Why do you make these pilgrimages to other cities, and what do you get from them?
The Cliffs Notes version is that John and I love the discovery of exploring a new place and experiencing a different way of life, and that time away allows us to bring fresh eyes to what we love about Brooklyn. We describe New Orleans as the anti New York. They both have great food, music and architecture, but the pace in NOLA is slower, with a much greater emphasis on connecting with other people and enjoying life. I get deeply inspired by that, then start to miss my home, my friends and the energy of New York. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, it’s very nice to go traveling, but it’s oh so nice to come home. (Note from Amanda: Colleen has written about these “sabbaticals for the mind and spirit” on her blog…)
2. Staying with the theme of “place” for a moment: You’re from Michigan originally, and those roots seem important to you — I feel like a lot of the people I meet at your parties are friends that you made through some sort of secret Michigan mafia. Why did you leave… and do you think you’ll ever go back?
I didn’t think of being a Michigander as an important part of my identity until I moved to New York. That’s when I realized that Midwesterners have a distinct culture. It’s funny how often I meet someone that I feel an immediate connection with, then I learn they’re from Michigan or Wisconsin or Ohio.
I grew up in a General Motors town in mid Michigan and couldn’t wait to get out. John and I lived in Ann Arbor for several years after we got married and it was wonderful in so many ways. We had a cozy little first house where we threw enormous backyard barbecues with good friends. We had it very good, but I’d never lived anyplace but Michigan and I felt this difficult-to-explain pull to live in New York. Maybe not forever, but at least to try it. When I pitched it to John, I said we should do it for three to five years, then reassess. We just hit eight years and we’re about to renew our lease. We both feel the pull of our home state, with its natural beauty, lower cost of living and our families, but for now, Brooklyn is home.
3. Speaking of your parties: They’re legendary. You host concerts in your living room for traveling musicians, you invite a rotating cast of friends to join a monthly spaghetti dinner, and you help your husband, John, throw incredible soirees in conjunction with his art openings. What do you enjoy most about playing hostess? Where do you think this impulse to convene people comes from? And who’s your role model in this arena?
Even though I never met her, my hostess role model is probably John’s mom, Mary Lou Tebeau. She’d passed away before John and I started dating, but he spoke with such affection about the parties his parents threw and he clearly carried that forward into his life, comfortably inviting friends for dinner even when he didn’t have much space or money to treat people. We also had friends in Ann Arbor who were such fantastic hosts and we shamelessly copied whatever they did — Rachel and Timo greeted people at the door with hot appetizers so we did, too; Curt and Kathy stocked their bar with every conceivable liquor, mixer and garnish so tried to do likewise.
I love playing hostess because I think socializing at home is a totally different experience. There’s an intimacy in feeding people and welcoming them into your space. You can set the tone and the pace, without a waiter getting anxious about when you’ll turn the table or having to shout in a loud bar. And hosting live music at home just feels so magical to me, with so much more of a connection between musician and audience, than in a professional venue.
I have zero percent success in romantically fixing up my friends, but we have multiple instances where our friends have become friends with each other. I’m a believer in the transitive property of friendship: If I like you, and you like her, I’ll probably like her. The biggest, best compliment I get at the end of a party is when a departing guest says, “You have great friends.” They’re right, we do, and I love it when they enjoy each other’s company.
4. Like me, you run your own consulting company — but unlike me, you also work part-time as a digital product manager for the AP. Tell the nice people at home a little bit about what you do in both roles.
My career has a bit of a split personality, which I love. In the same way I enjoy living in Brooklyn and getting away to other cities, I like my two different career paths because they complement and contrast with each other.
I am product manager for The Associated Press Stylebook, a sort of dictionary and guide to grammar and writing for journalists. I set our prices, manage our relationship with our printer and warehouse, work with our website manager to run our e-commerce, lead development of new products and develop our marketing strategy. It’s a fun job for a word nerd like me because Stylebook fans are so engaged and passionate. They have such enthusiasm for good writing and are vocal in their opinions.
I’m also a solopreneur marketing consultant. I mostly work with small and midsized companies to help with a variety of marketing strategy and tactics, including online surveys, social media strategy and overall brand positioning and strategy. I have a lot of fun helping my clients identify and achieve their goals, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount having to do everything myself, from getting my website built to keeping my books. I think that helps me connect with small-business owners, since I am one, too.
I call it entrepreneur light, since I have a corporate job three days a week and am self-employed the rest.
5. You started out as a reporter, then decided to get your MBA. What prompted that decision? How did it affect your career?
In the late 1990s, I was business editor at the Ann Arbor News. I kept editing story after story about some 19-year-old who started an Internet business in his fraternity house bedroom or a local start up that got acquired for millions of dollars and I thought, this Internet thing is blowing up. Meanwhile I saw people in our industry either panicking, seeing online as a huge threat instead of an opportunity to reach readers in a new way, or not reacting at all, hoping it was a fad that would go away. Even though we were still in the era of dial up modems, I could see the potential for transformation in our industry, but I had no idea how that might look. I decided to get my MBA to try to be part of that change.
I visited The Associated Press for the first time while I was an MBA student and it was seriously love at first sight. Jim Kennedy, vice president for strategy, described for a visiting group of Michigan business students how AP was working to transform for the new digital economy and I knew in that moment that I had to work there. I pursued AP for a couple of years before I finally found the right fit with one of the best bosses I’ve ever had, Tom Slaughter, who taught me so much. AP relocated us to New York and I’ve been here and with them ever since.
Getting my MBA was hard. Painfully, exhaustingly, “I want to quit!” hard at times. I was so lucky to have classmates who helped me along with the skills I’d never developed as a liberal arts student, like Excel and PowerPoint, for example. Social media and smartphones didn’t exist when I was in business school, so there’s a lot of what i do on a day-to-day basis that I couldn’t have foreseen in school, but I have used so many of the skills and concepts i learned in both my AP and consulting functions. It’s hard to see any part of my life that would look the way it does without the decision to g
o to business school.
6. What is something you turn to over and over again for inspiration? Could be a book, a piece of music, a person….anything. Why do you find it inspiring?
Our friends are hugely inspiring. Do you know that idea that you’re the average of your five closest friends? I really hope that’s true because we’re friends with some massively talented, hardworking, fabulous people. I feel positive peer pressure to keep up with them.
When I spend time with people who are hitting on all cylinders, I get a buzz from them, and I want to apply that energy to my own passions and pursuits. Conversely, I try to avoid negative people and people who are coasting because they drain my battery.
You and John recently celebrated your 14th wedding anniversary. Congrats!! How did you two meet?
Thanks! It’s surprising to me how it gets better and easier as the years go on – we know each other so much better, and it feels like we’re growing into a deeper love and appreciation for each other than I could have hoped for.
Depending on the situation, when people ask how we met, I often give the vague response, “Through mutual friends.” The truth is that John rented a room from my ex-fiance after my ex and I broke up. He lived in the house my ex and I were supposed to share. It’s a weird way to start a romance but it’s also proof the universe has a wicked sense of humor.
8. When did you know you wanted to marry him?
I felt it on our second date. I didn’t tell him, and it was months until we even said the L word, and maybe a year after that when he proposed. But I was pretty sure very early that he was the one.
9. What is the last thing that made you laugh so hard that if you had been drinking milk, it would have come out your nose?
After spending a month in New Orleans eating and drinking in the most spectacularly decadent way, John and I returned to Brooklyn and kicked off a three-week cleanse, with no alcohol, no sugar, no refined grains, no dairy and so on. We both dropped a noticeable amount of weight on the cleanse.
Toward the end of the three weeks, I was sitting on the couch when John came out of the bedroom saying, “I can’t believe I can fit into these shorts.” He was wearing my little jean shorts with lace trim, pulled up as far as he could get them, but obviously not zipped up. He backed into the room, wiggling his jean shorted behind, and I laughed so hard I could barely breathe.
Back in Ann Arbor, John worked at the NPR affiliate Michigan Radio. The young intern girls would sometimes bat their eyelashes and ask, “What’s it like being married to John?” I would answer honestly that sometimes he makes me laugh so hard when we’re grocery shopping that I’m afraid I’m going to wet my pants. I think making each other laugh is essential in a marriage and 14 years later, he still slays me.
10. Tell me about a recent, wonderful Brooklyn moment.
John has an art show up at the recently restored and reopened Long Island Bar in our neighborhood. We stopped in one night and they were hosting a book launch party for cocktail writer Robert Simonson, celebrating his beautiful new book “The Old Fashioned.” John realized he knew Robert’s wife, Sarah, because she’s a regular at the art supply store where John worked for several years. We talked with Sarah, who was chatting with a young couple, Leslie and Tony, and discovered Leslie had gone to Michigan. We invited Leslie and Tony to our next spaghetti night, where we learned Tony works with many of the same people as our friend Dan, who was also at spaghetti night.
Moral of the story is that Brooklyn is in many ways an interconnected small town, especially among the creative folks we know, and I love that.