A conversation with Anna Anderson

Vibeke: There are quite some years ago now Anna, since our paths crossed for the first time. We were both blogging back then. After several years i am slowly returning to this online space of mine, mainly because i found myself missing so much doing these written conversations with people. I am very happy that our paths have crossed again, this time through Instagram. Years have passed by and changes has happened since we were last in touch and i am so excited that you said yes to being interviewed. Maybe we should simply start with you sharing a bit about yourself?
AnnaIt's such a huge pleasure to be a part of your interview series, Vibeke! I've learned about so many incredible women through this series, so it's a thrill to be a part of it. Thank you. I'm a writer and jewelry designer / silversmith working in the Iowa Mississippi River Valley, where I live on a small farm with my family.  

Vibeke: I remember feeling so deeply inspired by reading your blog posts. And now again when having found you on Instagram i have had the huge pleasure of reading through quite a lot of your writing. Every time i receive a new newsletter from you i save it for one of those calm slow moment, with a cup of tea and time to really pause and spend time with your words.....never rushing through them because they are to precious for that. Your writing always inspire me and invite for reflection and growth. Can you talk a bit about your writing and also what writing means to you. And i would of course also like to hear about the MFA in writing that you are currently doing?
AnnaThese words mean so much to me. Thank you. Writing a newsletter can feel like writing intimate letters to X number of close friends, only a few of whom ever write back, if ever! It can feel a little like writing into the void, so I love hearing that you enjoy the newsletter. 
Writing might be my "thing," but I've never quite known what to do with it. I studied journalism in college, but I had a really hard time trying to channel what is for me a very creative pursuit into a commercial one. I really admire people who can churn out articles and stories and find fulfillment in that work, but for me it was very, very draining. So I did other work and wrote only for myself for several years, until I reached a point where I felt I needed more training, and had enough hours behind the keyboard to know that I could benefit from and really engage with feedback and instruction. The MFA program I'm in started around the time I graduated from college, and I've had my eye on it for years. It's a program that acknowledges the existence of faith, engages with faith, and--most importantly for me--doesn't require an ironic approach to faith. It doesn't require an approach to faith at all, but I knew I wanted to be somewhere that embraced the notion of belief. Nothing I've written for the course is explicitly religious, but because for me faith is wrapped up in the fiber of my being, I wanted to be in an environment that was academically rigorous, while not requiring major parts of myself to be stifled or set aside or cut off. 

Vibeke: Since making is another thing that very fastly comes to my mind when i think of you i would love to hear about your upbringing in connetion to this. Were creating and making for example a big part of the homeschooling and daily life in your family? Do you come from a family of makers?
AnnaYes! A long, long line of makers. Both of my parents were raised on family farms built by their immigrant grandfathers, and I grew up with this idea that you could make--and be--almost anything. My mother remodeled a house while I was growing up, and my parents built one from the ground up. Everyone in my family is very creative. And now it's incredibly fun to watch my niece and nephews see something they'd like to have and almost immediately launch into figuring out how to make that thing for themselves. 

Vibeke: Before we talk about your jewelry brand "aningri", which i am eager to hear about, i would love if you could share more in depth about these words of yours that i read in one of your Instagram posts:"I've known for all of my life that i need two kinds of work, works for my hands and my head, so i knew that these two ventures could work in tandem with each other. To be honest, though, it has been a huge challenge trying to figure out HOW these two work together."
AnnaYes! Huge challenge! And very necessary! I could be wrong about this, but I think that everyone benefits from and probably needs both intellectual and physical work. Our minds and bodies are meant to be exercised, and one informs the other. Physical work especially informs the mind--just think of how a walk or a run can clear the head. I'm very tactile, and I like to know how things work. One of my dreams (it may forever remain a dream) is to take apart a motorcycle and put it back together, learning how every part works (and then ride off into the sunset). In Baja California I met a couple who were sailing around the world. The husband had built their boat by hand, and he told me that he'd spent several months on one little wooden piece, forming and fitting it just so. There's something very admirable about that. 
I started Aningri at the same time as my graduate program, thinking that I could work with my hands while working out a piece of writing in my head. This really is the way it works a lot of the time, but starting two very big ventures at the same time is very tough. There are only so many hours in the day, only two hands to do the work, and building a business requires a lot of mental energy! You can't always plan life perfectly. 

Vibeke: Could you share about how your jewelry brand "aningri" came to life and how the process has been so far?
AnnaAningri started with the desire to create playful jewelry out of small, colorful bits of tile and pottery I've collected over the years from all over the world. I spent a few months in Mexico a couple of years ago and met a jewelry designer in Mexico City. There's something really wonderful about seeing other people doing the work you want to do, because it takes the idea from dream into reality. I came home to Iowa, built a workbench, and started teaching myself silversmithing, building my library and tool collection in the process. 
The first collection, the Friction Collection, is simple, luxurious pieces of sterling silver jewelry, designed around the idea of forward motion, movement, and recognizing that friction is necessary for movement--without it your wheels spin and you get nowhere. The pieces are by turns delicate and solid. The first piece, the Work Ring, carries with it the idea that your work is good. We don't always see the immediate fruit of our labors, and sometimes we never do (and sometimes others do, even if we don't). It's a slim reminder that each small thing contributes to bigger things, and in all of our work there is goodness.

Vibeke"Take custody of your mind’s eye and instruct it to show you something wonderful.” Sister Monica Joan (in Call the Midwife) says this to the woman in the bed next to her while they lie confined after cataract surgery, blinded by eye patches and encroaching fear. Custodia oculorum. Sister Monica Joan (one of my fave characters on the show) uses the term in a positive way instead of a negative one—not, “Don’t look there,” but look toward “something wonderful.”
I got so many thoughts when i first read these words that you shared on Instagram. Just the day before or so i had been talking together with a friend about awareness in connection with the use of "don't" ("never" and "always" were also words we talked about) and what kind of feeling and focus that comes with it. It is an interesting topic. I think that being more aware of the actual words we chose to use can be very fruitful. Not only the words we chose to use when we talk with others but also what we tell ourselves. If it isn't too personal i want to ask you about what your most usual fears or doubts are and what you do to help yourself with "taking custody of your mind's eye and instruct it to show you something wonderful"?
Anna: This is such an interesting question. Lately I've been kind of obsessed with the idea of rerouting brain neurons. It's fascinating to me that the way we speak to ourselves and what we think about plays such a big role in this. I have a tendency to ruminate on things that are bothering me, which is apparently like creating a rumination super highway in your brain. So when I learned a strategy to stop ruminating, it was a huge revelation because it hadn't occurred to me that you could strategize yourself out of that mess. The strategy is pretty simple: you think of seven things that are immediately visible. So, while driving, I'll notice the particular gray of the concrete, the line where the sky meets the earth, the ocean of green fields, etc. I try to stay on one thing as long as I can, thinking of, say, what other things are similarly green as a corn stalk in August, or trying to remember the name of that particular kind of clouds. The key is forcing yourself to do this, of course, which is the hardest part.
I feel like this is the first part of Sister Monica Joan's exhortation. The taking custody of your mind's eye. The second part is another challenge. A few days ago I was waiting to take a big exam and didn't have my phone with me. So I recited a poem I'd memorized recently on a friend's recommendation, Lucille Clifton's Blessing the Boats. It was calming, inspiring, and it just felt incredibly wonderful to have a poem tucked away for a moment like that.

Vibeke: Can you tell us about the idea -The artist date by Julia Cameron and also about your own process and experiences with this.
AnnaThe artist date is such a wonderful idea, and for some reason so difficult to actually do. Julia Cameron calls it a "solo expedition to explore something that interests you." I've managed to do this only a handful of times! It's easy to put it off, I think because it feels like a formal thing, and I make an effort to check out a museum exhibit or go to the botanical gardens, and then end up feeling kind of bored. Which isn't a bad thing! The reality is I spend a lot of time every week exploring things that interest me, but I don't call it an artist date. I suppose there's something powerful about naming a thing, and I think the idea behind the artist date is just to unabashedly explore something that isn't immediately connected to your work. 

Vibeke: I read in one of your posts on Instagram: "Sunday routines are what make my week". How is a typical sunday for you?
AnnaSunday evenings are the weirdest time of the week. I started writing a newsletter that goes out on Sunday evenings because that's the one spot in the week that is just so awful for some reason. It was only a few years back that I realized this awfulness is nearly universal! The newsletter is a little love note, with a meditation on whatever it is I've been thinking about during the week. It's meant to be affirming, to remind you that you're doing well, however you're doing it, and we're all in this thing together, separate thought we may be. I hope it's as lovely to read as it is to write--it's kind of an anchor for my Sunday afternoon!
Sunday mornings, by contrast, are the loveliest time of the week. There's just something so fresh and special about Sunday morning. It feels like sacred space, as though the week ahead could hold any number of wonders and good things. I listen to a series of podcasts I've saved for the day and try to breath as much fresh air as I possibly can, in utter solitude, preferably. :)  

Vibeke: If you were to learn something new, a craft for example, what would that be and why?
AnnaStock market investing? :)
For so much of my life I've felt like I could, or perhaps had to do everything that I was mildly interested in. Thankfully I've settled into a place where I can simply admire other people who are skilled in their work, without wanting or needing to try the thing myself. Which is to say that I've narrowed down this list quite a bit from a few years ago! I'm doing an illustration course right now, and I'd like to learn metal casting to bring to life some jewelry designs that so far exist only in my head. Beyond that, I'm deeply invested in studying the craft of writing and its intersection with art. 

Vibeke: Ordinary, simple things, that brings you joy?
AnnaHearing my parents laugh. My brothers' children tumbling through the front door, and then sending them home exhausted with sun-kissed or wind-burned rosy cheeks. The moment when the birds start singing at sunrise. Specific shades of pink. A good workout. Conversations that make me feel alive and on the right track. Finishing a piece of work.

Vibeke: Speaking of routines. What value does routines have for you and what are your most important ones?
Anna: This whole year I've been trying to establish a morning routine, and then I read that Nina Totenberg doesn't have one and thought, maybe I don't need one either. I have a nightly routine that's pretty steadfast and involves a religious adherence to Cetaphil and flossing, and reading myself to sleep with a not-too-engaging novel. A cup of tea is nice too, if I remember, even if I'd always prefer coffee...

Vibeke: Is there one of nature's seasons that is especially close to your heart? If so, what is it that you especially love about it?
AnnaOne of the things I'm writing is a long series of vignettes from my life on the farm, loosely based around seasons, because farming is such seasonal work. Iowa has pretty extreme seasons, and I have a lot of thoughts about all of them. I don't have a favorite, but I do love when it's been extremely hot or cold and then the temperature shifts and it's cool/warm for a few days. It just feels like a respite from the brutality of Very Cold or Very Hot, and you remember to breathe, and relish sleeping again with a comforter, or relish shedding some of the layers. It's a moment in time where you notice a change and appreciate the change. There's something wonderful about that. 

Vibeke: I would love to hear about your design process. Do you for example start with writing down what you want to express through the design or does the actual design itself often come first?
AnnaThe designs I have to offer right now are very simple, but they hold a lot of weight and meaning. Sometimes that weight and meaning springs from necessity- -the Work Ring came to life because a friend requested a ring she could wear while kneading bread. The Resistance Bangle was the embodiment of a meditation I'd been mulling over, about how resistance is action, and required for forward motion. It's all very intertwined, and one thing really does play off of the other.

VibekeAnother thing i am very eager to hear about is your solo motorcycle trip that you did in the fall of 2016! I know that you had just spent two years helping to take care of your family’s farm while your dad was recovering from cancer. And that this trip was the first time in a long time that you didn’t have to take care of anyone other than yourself. You had been dreaming of and both planning and saving for this trip for a long time hadn't you? 
AnnaSo long! Ever since watching the Motorcycle Diaries. I had decided to plan and save for two years, but in November of the first year I decided to just go, because if I didn't just go I knew something else would come up and I'd put off the trip indefinitely. I bought a very old, very small motorcycle that kept breaking down. It was stressful! But that was the part that ultimately made the trip interesting, because otherwise I wouldn't have met anyone and it would have been a lonely and boring trip. It was awful to have to rely on strangers, and I regretted not knowing enough about the bike to fix things myself. But now I have these really amazing memories of all the ways the trip went delightfully wrong. There was one moment, I think it was my first night camping in Oklahoma, when I
realized that for the first time in several years I didn't have to take care of anyone but myself. I have a picture of myself from that moment, and I love how delighted that woman in the photograph looks. As though she's just finished a very long challenge and was moving on to the next. Because of course I was

Vibeke: What were some of the things that you learned about yourself, and maybe also about strangers, through this trip?
AnnaWell, it was very stressful to be so unprepared, but it was also in those moments when I needed help that the most interesting things happened because it forced me to interact with other people. We are a people who need to be needed, I think. And now, strangely, it's a great joy to offer similar assistance. A friend once told me that when you see someone doing a thing, it's exciting to help keep the momentum of that thing going. It's just very exciting to help to keep momentum going.

VibekeI love how your writings so often both remind and inspire me to be more gentle and loving towards myself. And also the importance of being reminded about the beauty and meaning that there is in individuality. That it is an uniqueness and a gift! It is so easy to lose sight of this truth i think and i wonder if that is something that you can relate to? Do you have some thoughts around this topic and what do you do to help yourself to believe in and embrace your own individuality? 
Anna: Yes, it's so easy to lose sight of the beauty and meaning of our individuality. Whenever I start to feel separate from who I am at my core, I try to stop consuming. I put down my phone, set aside the books I'm reading, close the door to the room. I think you have to return yourself to yourself from time to time. Long drives are good for this. I often find that writing helps me to know my own mind, which is essential for recognizing and valuing your own individuality. One year I handwrote three pages in my journal every day and found it to be very grounding. It takes a lot of time, but knowing yourself requires a lot of time. And no matter how well you know yourself at any given moment, you're always going to learn more about how you work and how you work in relation to the world around you.

Vibeke: I read about a ring you had made for yourself : "My mother likes to say, “Life is full of possibility,” and if you know her, you know this isn’t just a line, but her life. It’s a truth I need to remember often—so easily caught up in an idea, a routine, or a place where it’s hard to dream big dreams. What if it’s something never imagined, beyond what we could have dreamed?  The little gap in this bulky ring is a reminder to myself to hold open the space for possibility. Who knows what could happen in a day, a year, a lifetime?"
Your mom's words are something that is a very useful reminder for me too. Can you share about what you admire most about your mom and what you consider to be the most important thing that she has thaught you?
AnnaMy mother is an incredible woman. I've always thought that her work as a mother was the most interesting work in the world, because she just filled her days with so much creativity. She's traveled all over the world, knows the most amazing people, and will talk with anyone. Among the many, many things she's taught me is how to take an idea and make it your own, to run with it and do it, no matter how impossible it seems at the beginning. I think she believes that many of our ideas and desires are God-given, so when we pursue the desires of our heart, we not only live life to its fullest, we also honor the Creator. That way of thinking gives such weight and depth to life, doesn't it?

Vibeke: What or who inspires you? 
AnnaMy parents and siblings. The idea that I have great-grandmothers and might one day have a great-granddaughter. Clear, beautiful writing. Fresh air (even a walk to the mailbox and back). A really good conversation with someone I love.

Vibeke: I am curious to hear about how you prefer to have it around you while you write and/or work with your jewelry. Do you for example like to have it quiet around you, do you need to have it tidy and so on?
Anna: I prefer to have it tidy, but I exist in a kind of organized chaos. A few years ago I gave away over half of my books and now I think, why did I do that? For me, the ability to work in any condition is the goal. Because if I feel like I can't work because some external condition isn't quite right, then there's something else going on--usually the deadline is too far away. :) Also, tidying up any chaos can be good preparation for sitting down to work. Either clearing the actual clutter from my desk, or doing the things (emails and phone calls, usually) that I've been putting off. 

VibekeOne of the most beautiful things i can think of is hands! Like you say "the beauty in the lines and ridges and ripples and grooves" (from one of your instagram posts). I can actually get moved to tears when i think of my grand-father's hands. My grand-father's hands told a visible story of working outside in all kinds of weather. Also of a life as a car mechanic (impossible to get really clean), raspberry farmer and bee-keeper. They had the roughness of skin from all the mechanic work but at the same time a gentleness to them that i think came from all those years handling fragile berries, fruits and vegetables. To me, his hands always smelled of raspberries and honey, even in winter. I was a child back then.
What do you find deeply moving and/or beautiful? 
Anna: This description of your grandfather's hands takes my breath away. I can imagine these hands and love them, too.
One of the most beautiful sounds is babies in places where the sound of a baby is disruptive. In church. During lectures. On airplanes. At funerals. I am not a mother, and the sound of children often takes my breath away. Also, hearing my littlest nephews say my name, or Leif Ove Andsnes playing Sibelius. 
I'm also moved by things of grandiose scale. Richard Serra. The Grand Canyon. A few years ago I was driving south on California's Highway 101 and came to the Golden Gate Bridge quite suddenly and unexpectedly. It's a massive bridge. I'd been driving all night so was a little sleep deprived, but I wept as I drove over it. The scale of it was so moving. 

Vibeke: What are your most grateful for in your life right now?
AnnaMy family. 

Vibeke: Maybe we should end our conversation with you sharing a quote or saying that holds a special meaning to you and why?
AnnaAbove my desk I have a quote from Ralph Lauren that I ripped from a magazine: "What I do is about living--enjoying the fullness of life around you." It's a very simple idea, but also very difficult to do. I try to do it with my life and work, because at times I can't think of any better way to bring glory to God