Art runs in the lifeblood of Jamaica Plain and new artists arrive every day! Today we’re speaking with JP resident Michael Spicher, who responded to our open call for interviews (you can too!) and shared his love of Porchfest (he performs), how he uses stories to teach philosophy, and more.
K: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
M: I’m originally from the Albany area of upstate New York. I lived there most of my life and then lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, for about six years, and Columbia, South Carolina for another nine years. Now I live almost across the street from JPNDC. I’ve lived here for two and a half years.
K: How is JP different or similar from where you used to live?
M:Boston is one of the biggest cities I have lived in besides Charlotte. It has a better infrastructure for getting around without a car and that’s one of the biggest differences. JP is the first place I’ve lived where I don’t ow n a car, nor do I have to. I bike, walk, and take the T. The other biggest difference is the diversity in this pocket of Boston.
One of the things that’s most similar is that I’ve always lived in suburbs and JP is sort of a blend between suburb and city. It doesn’t have the negative feel of a suburb, but it is also outside of the hustle and bustle of the downtown Boston area.
K: What made you decide to move to JP?
M: It’s weird because my wife has always wanted to live in a city, and I’ve always felt like I could live anywhere. That doesn’t mean I’d like it everywhere, but I could probably make it work in most places. After I finished graduate school, we took a trip to Budapest to discover my Hungarian roots. While there, it became apparent that we should live in a city if possible.
I’m sort of embarrassed to say it now that I live here, but Boston wasn’t initially on our radar! How we ended up here was that there’s an Arts Administration Program at Boston University, and it made sense to move here for that. I taught my first class there in the fall. Once we got here, however, it felt like a perfect fit. And now I also teach a class at Boston Architectural College.
Part of the reason we chose JP was because the description of JP on Airbnb made it seem like a really cool neighborhood. We also knew we didn’t want to have our cars, so we knew we had to be connected to the MBTA. We had considered other neighborhoods, but they didn’t appeal to us like JP did.
K: So, you moved to JP and you are teaching at BU, but you are also a writer, musician and a painter. Tell me more about your work.
Photo by Hannah Goff Spicher
M: I am what I like to call a serious dabbler. I’ve always been interested in the arts. I started probably back when I was a kid painting, and in high school I took more painting classes but also began to play music, especially guitar and harmonica. In college, I kind of stopped the visual side because I didn’t have the time or space as I was living in a dorm, so I started writing and focusing more on music. Then I pursued a PhD in philosophy, so I didn’t have much time for anything, but I still tried to play a little bit of music!
During the final stretch of graduate school, a book called “Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham made me realize for the first time that I really didn’t want to just read fiction anymore. I wanted to write it. I started writing. My stories have not been published yet, but I have at least 10 to 15 short stories and about 100 pages of a novel written.
I play harmonica and slide guitar, mostly blues. I’m not in a regular band yet but I’ve played both Porchfests that have happened since I’ve lived here in JP. And I’ll be playing the upcoming one too!
Painting I took a long hiatus from, but I always knew that I would get back to it. It takes up a lot of space. One day, on a random whim my wife said, ‘You should start painting again.’ I thought ‘Sure!’ I just went for it. It’s been one thing that I always wanted to get back to and it made sense at that time in my life to start painting again. It’s more of a hobby still at this point, but I hope to show some work soon.
Photo by Hannah Goff Spicher
My work as a writer started more officially with my work in academia. My non-fiction focuses on my research in philosophy, which circles around aesthetics and the philosophy of art. I focus on theories of beauty, the sublime, taste, and aesthetic experience, along with the nature, purpose, and value of art. While studying philosophy two of my favorite classes were ones that blended philosophy with literature. So for the first course I taught on moral issues, I used the stories of Kurt Vonnegut along with different philosophical texts. I could see that it helped my students stay more engaged but also distance themselves a little bit from the emotions of the issues. That was a nice segue into writing fiction for me. A lot of my favorite philosophers wrote fiction. It’s such a natural way to present things without coming down on things solidly. (You can read more about Michael’s work on his website.
K: Has JP inspired your art, music, and writing?
M:I would say that JP has inspired my painting in two ways. Indirectly, because JP is such a beautiful place and it’s hard to not want to create here. If you already are inclined to create and you’re around places like Jamaica Pond, the Arboretum, and walking by some people’s gardens, it’s inspiring. JP has amazing architecture and it has this particular focus on the tiny details that you just wouldn’t see on many homes anywhere else. One way JP has more directly inspired my work is participating in two of the big events in JP, Porchfest and Open Studios. Porchfest keeps me going musically and I enjoy it so much. I haven’t done Open Studios yet, but it has given me a goal to work towards with my painting.
K: What are your favorite places in Jamaica Plain?
M: One of the great things about JP are the green spaces. The Pond is an enchanting place to go to and pick up some of the rocks and find crawdads. I love the Brendan Behan and JP Seafood Café. We both enjoy Taco Tuesdays at The Gate! And I’ve been digging Turtle Swamp Brewery lately.
K: K: Do you have a favorite JP memory?
Photo by Hannah Goff Spicher
M: I have three favorite memories and one is the day that we moved here. Driving in and realizing that I wasn’t passing through, and I now lived here, was a great feeling. My second is our first Christmas in JP. We went to the Loring Greenough House and carried our first JP Christmas tree home almost a mile back to our apartment! My third favorite goes back to when we read the description of JP online, one of the photographs was of the Salmagundi hat shop. We thought that a neighborhood that has this shop must be cool. We were celebrating that everything worked out so well after our move, and my wife said that she would get me hat at Salmagundi. I had already picked the hat out while we were in South Carolina! My experience meeting the owner, Jessen Fitzpatrick, was really great, and it was delightful to meet everyone working there, who are so helpful when buying a hat.
My fondest memory is meeting our landlord for the first time. We were in JP for 24 hours and we had to look for an apartment, and I had an interview for a job. We literally had to get it all done in 24 hours. We looked at the apartment and she could see that we were exhausted. We were staying at an inn in Brookline and she offered to drive us back. She was amazing. She was a realtor here for a longtime and was a longtime resident. And then she passed away a couple months after our one-year mark.
K: K: Tell me a little bit about your involvement in Porchfest.
Michael with Paul Sedgwick. Photo by Hannah Goff Spicher.
M: In 2016, I played on Custer Street and we had the later slot, so we got to wander around. Last year, we played the earlier slot and so we went straight there and didn’t wander around as much. It is such a cool idea. It was never a giant event anywhere else I’ve lived, but a guy I used to play blues and folk with a lot in Charlotte used to have everyone he had played with come back and play on his porch. It was like a one-porch Porchfest. It was so cool to come to Boston and see it on a large scale.
K: What would you like to see happen to Jamaica Plain in the future?
M: One morning last year we heard noise and realized that there was a giant festival in front of Stony Brook T Station. We went to check it out and it was a festival celebrating the Dominican Republic. There are things that we just happen upon randomly. I would love to know more about when these things are happening. People always talk about how great the diversity is in JP, and that is true, and it’s a very positive thing, but I would like to see how we could get the various groups of people to do things together. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have a separate events sometimes, but I think it would be cool to see what we could do as a community to be more intentional about getting a wide array of people involved in one thing all together. Here’s an example from art history: in the early 20th century, philosophers, artists, poets, writers, and others would all be together, and within such a short period of time, some of the greatest works and genres of art were created. We could create that kind of environment here in JP.