I’m the owner of Stand Up Comedy, a men's and women's boutique in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. In the past, we’ve called it “the world's smallest department store” because we hit every kind of retail offering in a really teeny, minuscule kind of way. We specialize in progressive, experimental, and cult brands across clothing, accessories, art objects, and printed matter—although not so much the printed matter these days.
Before starting Stand Up Comedy, I was in the fine art world. My education is in art history and I spent a number of years as a curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It was amazing. I grew up there, professionally.
I always felt like working in art—especially contemporary art—was about bringing new ideas and new forms of critical thinking into the wider public view. But the longer I did it, the more the world felt like it was narrowing. You’re working with the same artists and you're using the same language and you're meeting with a lot of the same people again and again—it started to feel like what should be opening my worldview was closing it off.
It started to feel like what should be opening my worldview was closing it off.
Clothes, fashion, and style—these things have always been really important to me. I’ve been obsessed with clothes since I was a kid. But I had a lot of guilt about that, especially coming from the art world. It should have been so uninteresting and shallow, so I could never reconcile why I was still so fascinated by it.
Fashion started to feel like it was a way to think about a more accessible language. A lot of the brands I’d been interested in for a long time were obviously taking their inspiration from the art world: commercial brands like Margiela and Comme des Garçons, but also more underground, small ones like Bless, which I now carry at the store and was probably the most inspiring for me. They were clothes that I didn’t understand, of course, because I didn’t have any kind of frame of reference for them in an academic or intellectual sense. I just knew that they moved me in ways that were unexplainable. So eventually I started to think, You know, I’m getting older, I should do the things that I’m really interested in, the things that feel inspiring to me.
My parents had always been entrepreneurs, but on a very small scale. The usual immigrant businesses: car washes, dry cleaners, bodegas—stuff like that. So I understood it was an incredibly hard life, but that it was possible. They were still back in Portland and I’d go visit them frequently, so I knew there was nothing like my idea there. There were a few small boutiques, but no one was carrying these multi-brand independent labels.
Opening a store was a huge learning curve for me. I don't know that I had anything more than a conviction of my own personal style.
Opening a store was a huge learning curve for me. I don't know that I had anything more than a conviction of my own personal style, but I felt like that was enough, you know? And that I was good at convincing people to try different things.
I like to think you could categorize almost everything we carry in the store as special. If you look at, for instance, a piece from Bless—a sweatshirt—it’s made from cotton fleece. It's got a hood on it. You look at it and it could be a hoodie. But it’s got a very strong conceptual twist to it. Whether it's got patchwork, or there's a giant hole in the neck, or something that conveys that there was a deep design consideration there. And that's the thing that is so interesting to me about avant-garde designs, and what I try to tell people that come into the store. I get people that come in every day that have no idea what the store is about. They’re like, “Oh, this shit's weird.” But I always say you should try it, because it’s actually the most democratic form of fashion that’s out there. It looks appropriate on every kind of person. It's always going to exist and it’s always going to be independent of somebody else’s way of thinking. It defies categorization. I think a lot of people are surprised at how beautifully a lot of these pieces can fit.
I'm 42 now, and my style is definitely still evolving. There was probably a minute in my 30s where I thought, Oh, I've hit it! I've found what suits me! And then five years later, your body changes, and that doesn’t look right anymore. So I’ve privately learned to accept that a lot of these ideas and feelings are fluid, and that’s quite exciting. That’s what keeps the store vibrant, too.
The pieces that we actively seek out now do things with light, or temperature, or color changes.
I wouldn’t say that I collect art, because I don't have a lot of it. I also think when you say you're a collector, it can give off a connotation that it’s an investment, and that’s certainly not how my husband, Scott, and I acquire work. It’s always because there’s a personal connection to the artist or to the piece itself. A lot of it’s by chance. The pieces that we actively seek out now do things with light, or temperature, or color changes. Like these delicate moments that you’re looking for in your life, in your daily existence, and that’s what makes you happy. So I’d say a lot of the art that we're interested in reflects that.
Like Rob Gardiner. He’s an artist based in New Zealand. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about his background. If you were packing up your house, someone might accidentally throw his work away because it could look like junk. But in the right context, on the right wall, tilted at the right angle—it’s all about shadow and light. It’s obviously really cool and cute and sort of kitschy-looking, but when you look there next to it, you're like, “Oh, there’s a dark shadow on the wall, what is that?” And then an hour later, it’s on a different spot on the wall. The kind of delight that you can get from that—the awe it can inspire when you think about the work that this person went to getting the angle of the wire bent the way it should be so the light could hit the ball and then hit the wall at this time of day . . . it’s kind of endless, where it could take you.
We lived in downtown Portland for a number of years. It was a very uncool place to live, I think, but it was what I was familiar with. I also felt like it was the only place I ever saw people who weren’t white. Certainly the only Asian people I ever saw were working downtown, so I was like, “I prefer to live down here.”
We probably spent three years looking for a place to buy. It took that long to figure out not just what we wanted, but to narrow down what we could and couldn’t live with. And, of course, there was an ever-increasing anxiety about how we were going to buy something. It just felt like the the longer we waited, the worse it was going to get. But that feeling actually also allowed us to open up our search to different geographic areas within the city, and then we found out about the Sunlight Community.
It was so mind boggling to me because I literally grew up 10 minutes from here and I’d never heard of this place. I’d never seen it and I had spent countless hours as a teenager driving around these hills. I thought I knew this area like the back of my hand. We later found out that that’s because the community was built in 1979 and very, very few homes had ever come up for sale on the open market. They’re usually handed down or done through private sale.
It’s a specific kind of co-housing community. In 1979, all the families came together to purchase the land and 15 homes were built. They were interested in this idea of communal-style living. The community collectively owns the seven-and-a-half acres that we all live on. We each own our own home, but all of the ground in between everything, you’re free to walk on, touch, and use—and we all maintain it together.
Scott and I never thought of ourselves as overly neighborly, but we wanted to explore this way of thinking and living that people seem to be moving away from, which is in really sharing your lives with complete strangers. So we were very lucky to have found the house and to get it.
All the decisions related to the community are made by consensus, not by majority. So it's very slow moving, always. We meet monthly. Monthly is a lot! That’s every four weeks, for consensus. Fuck! That’s so difficult! But every month we go to the community building, have a potluck dinner together, and do the meeting. Not every meeting is as interesting as another, depending on what the agenda is. Sometimes not everybody’s present, and you can't make decisions without a quorum, of course. You can’t talk without raising your hand, which is a little bit weird as an adult, but it’s the only way you can do it. Otherwise everybody would be yelling and talking over each other. It’s pretty fascinating to see how people maintain that. In this community, there are still a number of people who either were here from the very beginning, or really close to it, so it’s an amazing archive of the history of the place.
It seems to me like most of the arguments and discussions are around the trees.
It seems to me like most of the arguments and discussions are around the trees. The houses were built specifically to use passive solar energy. When the trees get too big and they block out the sun, the architecture doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. So there’s a lot of “I need to trim this tree for this reason,” or the “roots are encroaching” over this or that, and that’s where people could get really pissed off at each other.
But there’s a really strong underlying sense of responsibility towards one another. Every day I come home and there's new fruit or flowers from someone's garden at my doorstep. I would give anybody here a key to my house and it would be no problem. There’s just a built-in sense of inherent responsibility and trust. And it felt like that from day one. I’m happy to say that I know every single person here pretty intimately.
Some of the things that I don't like about myself have to do with being closed off—impenetrable or inscrutable in some way. I’ve been like that my whole life, and I feel like that’s cut me off from a lot of people and a lot of things. I don't want my daughter to be protective of herself in that way, so that was part of the decision as to why we wanted to move to a place like this.
I also feel incredibly lucky to live where I live because I’m a big fan of weed. I smoke a lot of it, for sure. I always have. I wouldn't say that I have any kind of spiritual vibe about it or anything like that, it’s just that I found my drug of choice. And I found it pretty early. There was definitely a point in my life where I was probably just like any other young person who drinks too much or does too many drugs or whatever. But now I feel like it’s total relaxation.
I probably smoke every day. Just in a really low-key way, like at night after my kid goes to sleep. I don’t smoke in front of her, and I don’t know why because I drink in front of her all the time. She’s already like, “Mommy, where’s the wine? Daddy, where’s the beer?” So she totally knows all that stuff and she has already gleaned that when we’re drinking, it’s because we have recreational time or there’s a party atmosphere.
I know it’s my own hangup that I choose not to smoke in front of her. I imagine that that will change, gradually. I think it’s partly because it's not completely socially accepted, and I don’t have enough skin in the game to feel like I need to be a pioneer for that. I just haven't figured out how to go there with her yet.
We’ve talked about making a smoker’s club related to the store. I think there’s a little bit of something in me that feels like I want to de-stigmatize it, which is so weird to say, because it’s fucking legal here. People can do what they want to do and yet there’s still that sense of embarrassment or shame or something like that around it. But I associate weed culture with so many good times and so many amazing people that I’ve met in my life and had fun with. So that’s something fun that I would like to promote with the store.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Diana Kim photographed by Jules Davies at her home in Portland, Oregon. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.