When to (or not to) quit your day job with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson

When to quit your day job (or when not to!), with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson

with your host Jessica Abel

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Quitting your day job — That’s billed as the final frontier for artists. Proof of success.

And if someone tells you not to? Generally an insult.

But the reality of being a successful creative professional isn’t so black and white. Quitting your day job is a laudable goal (by all means, go for it!), but it’s not necessarily a measure of creative success.

In fact, keeping that day job, whether full- or part-time, can be a catalyst for your creative work.

From self-publishing to Big-5 book contracts

“At the end of that year, we were having a great time.
We were not making money, but we weren’t losing it.”

Matthew Swanson

What would you do if you applied to six graduate programs…and received seven letters of rejection?

Would you quit your job, sell your house, and move into a barn to self-publish for a year?

All right, that might not be what you’d do, but it is what illustrator-writer duo Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson did.

Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson, the illustrator-author-married-with-4-kids duo (who are also Alaskan salmon fishers! Check out their interview for deets on that!), are the masterminds behind the critically acclaimed middle grade series Cookie Chronicles, and The Real McCoys and the picture books Sunrise Summer, Babies Ruin Everything, and Everywhere, Wonder.

They shed some light on how their foray into self-publishing played out:

In 2006, Matthew’s plan to get his writing MFA to prep for a life as a teacher…didn’t work out.

But instead of throwing in the towel, Robbi and Matthew decided to quit their jobs, sell their house, and move into Robbi’s family barn. They were committed to finding a way to collaborate (Matthew writing and Robbi drawing) and figured they could make books for a year before they ran out of money.

They started a book subscription service to pay for paper and printing, and it was…enough. For a while.

But…they have four kids.

How did they make that work even when they had quit their jobs?

Matthew let me in on a little secret:

[A year later] my boss from the corporate job called me back and asked if I would be willing to come back half-time from home.

The half-time from home arrangement gave me enough time to write the books, and Robbi, whose part just takes longer than mine (the illustration part takes longer), did the art.

We had the predictable income we needed to comfortably start having kids, and keep on going as functioning adults in the world while making our creative work.

That was the really wonderful thing. I still have that job. I mean, that’s sort of the secret that not everybody knows, but 17 years after I started that job, I still work half-time.

I’m a communications consultant, strategist, and writer who makes college recruitment materials.

Robbi and Matthew’s creative endeavors now provide a larger proportion of their income than they did back in the self-publishing day, but this “almost quitting” model can be so powerful.

The case for almost quitting your day job

I talk to my students about all the time about the idea of having just one strand of stable, part-time, flexible income when they’re thinking about their future. Nothing wrong with dreaming to quit your day job, but maintaining that part-time income not only allows for peace of mind about the rent, it also affords certain advantages creatively.

That’s what has enabled us to keep pushing forward in creativity, and keep having children, and […] we don’t suffer.

We live a perfectly comfortable life while being full-time creatives and I just have this other thing on top of it that pays the bills.

Matthew Swanson

It gives you creative freedom. We never had to worry about [whether] the books were going to make money. We made some of the weirdest little strange little books and none, I mean, none of them made money. But we loved doing it. And we wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it without Matthew’s job.

[It’s not] just the illustration that takes a long time, but I also do all the design. There’s a lot of extra work that goes into it that I couldn’t do if I had a full-time job either.

Robbi Behr

It’s important to note that Robbi and Matthew were creative professionals for 10 years before they started self-publishing. They developed skills that they now use in their self-publishing and commercial publishing. For example, Robbi learned graphic design and page layouts while working as a graphic designer for the same firm Matthew is with now.

There’s no magic spell you can cast to summon creative success

We do a lot of talks at colleges, and students will ask us, ‘how do I get to where you are as quickly as possible?’

And we’re just like, there’s no ‘quickly’ about it. It’s putting in a lot of time in a lot of places. And, it’s also luck. Things have to break your way again, and again, and again, in order to make it all happen.

Robbi Behr

To a certain degree, you can manufacture luck. In my interview with Alexander Chee, he talked about the importance of submitting your work, even when you’re struggling with self-doubt.

I also heard a lot about so-called luck when working on Out On the Wire. Robert Smith said, “you’re not lucky, you’re just good,” and I was so convinced, I used that as the title of the episode.

What he meant is what Alexander also meant: You’ve got to put yourself in the right situations over and over, take risks by finishing work and getting yourself out there whether or not it feels comfortable (and mostly, it doesn’t).

That’s how you minimize your time spent waiting — the waiting to “be discovered”, the waiting for fortune to smile upon you, the waiting to have created something amazing.

Take stock of what’s at your disposal, both the tangible and intangible. Your job is to build a cage that can catch luck as it flies by.

Robbi and Matthew are lucky because they take crazy chances, and go all in, and do it without permission…

…and they can do that because they have the safety net of the day job (and of course, also their relationship).
You can always quit your day job...and then un-quit, too!
Photo Credit: Horace and Mae Photography

For Robbi and Matthew, setting up a life in which luck was more likely to strike meant getting out there, publishing, sharing their work with people, and going through tons of iterations — making the work they cared about and honing their craft.

That’s how they broke into commercial publishing.

We set up a table at MoCCA and a guy from Disney came by our table and bought Ten Thousand Stories.

Ok, but is it really that simple?

We didn’t talk to him. He just did that, and then he held onto it for like two years.

After those two years?

Little Brown was making a mix-and-match book in the Super Hero Squad series, which is Marvel. That’s why this Disney guy was there. He said, ‘Oh, I met some people who know how to do this’ and that’s how we got our foot in the door. That was extremely lucky, right?

The guy happened to pick it up.

Robbi Behr

I think this one anecdote has about five different examples of making luck. First of all, we’ve relentlessly and doggedly made books.

We self-published 45 books with [our own imprint,] Idiots Books, and this one book that we made happened to find its way into this one guy’s hand, and that turned into this opportunity.

Matthew Swanson

Robbi and Matthew have taken control of their creative conditions.

When Matthew un-quit his day job, the list of creative risks they could actually take grew

Now we have ended up in this place where we’re publishing books with MacMillan and Random House. They are books that, first of all, we never would have thought to make, and never could have pitched without the runway we built a brick at a time by following the sense of creative opportunity.

Matthew Swanson

Whether or not you quit the day job, stay true to your values

Robbi and Matthew’s commitment to collaborating creatively as well as working together as parents (shifts are a must!) has been facilitated by networking, seeing their projects through, keeping a part-time job, working with and being engaged with their community, and developing a brand that’s consistent and incredibly authentic to who they are.

I think if you’re very deliberate, purposeful, and upfront about what you will and will not create, and you stick to it, then you’re more likely [for it to] start to become more of a business or a profession or a money generating mechanism for you and others, and still be doing what you love.

Matthew Swanson

The only thing more challenging than using frenetic DIY self-publishing to springboard a career in children’s books might be running a commercial salmon fishery on the Alaskan tundra from a cabin with no electricity, no toilet, and four kids.

That’s why I was so excited to talk to Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson, the illustrator-author-married-with-4-kids duo.

Robbi illustrates, Matthew writes, and together they make picture books for kids and adults.

Robbi and Matthew are a whirlwind of creative action, and their story is just a crazy tale of inventing a creative life that allows them to make the work that’s 100% most aligned with who they are and what they value.

They started on this path when Matthew got his “most withering rejection”, which slammed the door on how they thought their lives would play out.

They turned even this painful setback into an opportunity, so it’s no surprise that their approach to life has opened the door to amazing lucky breaks.

In this interview, we talk about the value of the right kind of day job, how to develop a unique and authentic brand, and why you should definitely NOT try to marry Robbi Behr.

More from the episode…

  • Robbi and Matthew joke about the rejection that inspired their creative partnership: “I applied to six graduate schools and I got seven letter of rejection. The University of Minnesota rejected me twice on consecutive Mondays.”
  • The two ways you can respond to life’s challenges, according to Matthew: “You can have power of conviction behind a story and try everything you can to make that version of the story come true. Or you can pick a thread and follow the thread and let the thread itself be the driving force and see what story materializes.”
  • “We live a perfectly comfortable life while being full-time creatives and I just have this other thing on top of it that pays the bills.” — Why Matthew still has a day job, despite their success making books.
  • The chance encounter that led to Robbi and Matthew’s first commercially published book and what it takes to make your own luck.
  • How “leaping at the first possibility” led to Robbi and Matthew’s biggest mistake, and what they could have done differently.
  • Robbi and Matthew discuss developing their unique brand and why authenticity is so important: “I think if you’re very deliberate and purposeful upfront about what you will and will not create and you stick to it, then you’re more likely at the end where it starts to become more of a business or a profession or a money-generating mechanism for you and others to still be doing what you love.”
  • What are the benefits of commercial publishing, and why are Robbi and Matthew excited about returning to self-publishing one day?
  • Robbi and Matthew consider their creative differences an asset. What makes their partnership productive and how do they resolve conflict?
  • Alaskan salmon fishing: the forty-year tradition begun by Robbi’s father that Matthew describes as “indescribably unpleasant and yet it’s magical.”
  • A question about fate reveals how Robbi and Matthew met.

More from our guests:

Robbi is an illustrator/printmaker/commercial salmon fisherwoman with a BA from Williams College and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Matthew is a writer/art director/blues harmonica player who has so far failed in every attempt to be swashbuckling.

Robbi illustrates. Matthew writes. Together they make picture books for kids and adults. They’re also married. And they do all this with four kids.

They’ve published books including Everywhere Wonder, The Real McCoys, Babies Ruin Everything, and more than 70+ self-published books before breaking into commercial press!

Next up for this duo? They’re converting a 24 foot school bus into a tiny home that they’ll be living in with their four kids (and a puppy!) while they travel for a year and give away 50,000 free books to high-poverty schools! They’re currently fundraising for this project, and you can learn more about it here.

Plus, check out “The Daily Minute” — a series of daily videos exactly a minute long (there’s a timer and everything) that purport to be about their creative process, but often include marital antics, funny things that have happened to them, cameos by their kids, and lots of cheese balls on either Instagram or Facebook.

Connect with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson


instagram @robbi.and.matthew

twitter @drawingrobbi

twitter @writingmatthew



Additional Links





Click here to read the transcript

Ep 002 – Robbi & Matthew

Matthew: Yeah we had a story of what our perfect creative lives could be.

And the story was I get my MFA. Robbi has her MFA. We’re professors. We publish. We do freelance. Like, it was a really awesome story. We would have been so excited if that story had happened. That story was denied us and so we had to author a different story.

AC intro3: What does it take to become a successful writer or artist?

There are some destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like.

And we’re kept in our lane by the undermining belief that, as artists, we’re somehow incapable of building autonomous, sustainable careers– if we choose the work that’s closest to our hearts.

So we’re going to tear down those myths and get the truth by going to the source:

Incredible professional creatives who’ve followed every path but the expected one to success on their own terms.

I’m cartoonist, author, and coach for creatives, Jessica Abel.

And this is the Autonomous Creative.

Maybe the only thing more challenging than using frenetic, totally DIY self-publishing to springboard a career in children’s books just might be running a commercial salmon fishery on the Alaskan Tundra from a cabin with no electricity, no toilet and four kids.

That’s why I was so excited to talk to Robbie Behr and Matthew Swanson, the illustrator author married with four kids, duo. Robbie illustrates, Matthew writes and together they make picture books for kids and adults.

And Robbie and Matthew are a whirlwind of creative action and their story is just a crazy tale of inventing a creative life from scratch that allows them to make the work that’s 100% most aligned with who they are and what they value.

They started on this path when Matthew got, as he calls it, his most withering rejection, which slammed the door on how they thought their lives would play out. They turned even this painful setback into an opportunity. So it’s no surprise that their approach to life has opened the door to amazing lucky breaks.

In this interview, we talk about the value of the right kind of day job, how to develop a unique and authentic brand and why you should definitely not try to marry Robbi Behr.

Let me guess.

You want to get more done.

You want to be sure you’re doing the right things.

You want to stop feeling so slammed and overwhelmed.

You want flexibility and autonomy.

You want to have time for the big ambitious projects you’ve dreamed up that, you know could change everything for you. If you only finished them.

I’ll also hazard a guess that you’d find it difficult to do all of that without working 70 hour weeks, missing out on time with family and friends damaging your health. And burning out.

And if you would, that puts you in very good company. Most of my clients, and in fact, most of the creative professionals I meet struggle with those same issues.

Modern life just isn’t designed to make it easy for creative people to do great work and make money while also taking care of their mental and physical health, their relationships in their communities.

It’s not even fair to ask.

And yet, that’s what we’re faced with.

The good news is this problem is crackable.

The bad news is there’s no magic formula.

That’s why I’m excited to invite you to the simplify to amplify round table, a free live monthly conversation, where we get together to tackle the big questions, celebrate our successes and plan out what to do next.

Running a creative business is no joke. It’s complex. Issues crop up out of nowhere.

And more often than not, we have no one to turn to to ask for help.

If you have a creative business at any stage of development from nascent to veteran. You’ll get a ton out of these sessions. Bring your questions and join me and an amazing group of creative peers who take their business as seriously as you do. At the free simplify to amplify round table. Check out Jessica abel.com/star to register for the next session of the simplified amplify round table.

That’s Jessica abel.com/star.

Okay, let’s start the show.

Jessica: Tell us a little bit about you guys as a couple who are creatively enmeshed.

I remember that you used to send us like a subscription box or something like you, you’d send out books regularly and they were so thoughtful and careful. Like everything about them was so beautiful.

Like you get these packages and they’d have things in them and all these little, yeah, it was gorgeous. And, but then there’d be like this long letter that Matthew wrote, and Robbi’s marks crossing stuff out and drawings red marks all over it.

Matthew: Just to set the stage for that.

We started publishing books together after very abruptly leaving our professional lives, because our professional lives didn’t afford us the opportunity to be creative together. We just didn’t have the time that we needed to make books. So we decided, we’ll quit our jobs and we’ll spend one year just making books, so that we could say that we did.

We moved into this barn that was owned by Robbi’s parents. And then we spent a year doing this subscription service, right?

Robbi: I mean, the idea was Matthew was going to apply to graduate school. He applied to graduate school and he got rejected.

Matthew: I applied to six graduate schools I got seven letters of rejection.

Robbi: There you go. That’s how that, those were the numbers, so,

Matthew: The University of Minnesota rejected me twice on consecutive Mondays. Same letter, same very sort of eviscerating content. “Don’t come here. We don’t value you as a writer.” So that also helped.


the barn

Jessica: Oh God.

Robbi: Yes. That sort of pushed us out the door and the idea was, I mean, we sold our house.

Jessica: Wait, wait, wait, that pushed, hold it. Hold on. That pushed you out the door? Because that, I mean…

Robbi: that was…

Jessica: …that’s the opposite. Like most people are like, oh, I give up. Right?

So how does that, how does that turn into, oh, well now we’re going to do it ourselves.

Matthew: Most people don’t marry Robbi Behr. If you marry Robbi Behr your, your most withering rejection becomes the…

Robbi: the opportunity!

Matthew: Impulse you need.

Robbi: Yes, no, we knew that we were not happy in the jobs and um, needed to do something different and it needed to be more, we needed to have more time and space for creative stuff.

So plan A was for Matthew to get into graduate school. We would just go wherever he went, and I would find some kind of job.

I, hopefully I could teach some art or whatever, and that, and then we would both be professors.

And that was sort of how we thought that our lives were going to go. And then Matthew got soundly rejected from graduate school.

So then plan B was, well, we, we had been so excited about changing, about doing something different that we were like, well, what can we do if we don’t, if now that Matthew didn’t get into graduate school.

So my parents, my mom was a potter and she had had the downstairs of this barn as her pottery studio and the upstairs was storage. And growing up, I kind of had always said, “oh ever everything goes wrong, I can just clean out a corner in the upstairs of the barn and live in the barn.”

So, you know, we sold everything. We lived in Baltimore at the time. We sold everything and we had enough money from the sale of the house that we were like, we could live for a year in the barn on this money.

And we did renovate. I mean, we used some of it to renovate the barn so that it was livable because it really was not livable at the time.

And so for the first, how many years, Matthew, were we in that room?

Matthew: We we spent two years in that room, a single room studio, offices, a little sort of fake kitchen with a microwave and a college fridge. proper kitchen

Robbi: and a hot plate

Matthew: You didn’t have a proper kitchen

Robbi: Yeah.

Matthew: But but really we just wanted to be able to make some books

Robbi: And we thought, we thought we were only going to do it for a year,

Matthew: Right. We figured we would have to like, sort of return to nine to five work afterwards, but we wanted to have done it.

Robbi: And so the subscription service came about because we really wanted to not just sit around and watch TV for that year. And we felt like…

We came up with a subscription service idea because we were like, well, if people, first of all, if people pay up front, then we that’ll pay for the paper and the printing and stuff. And it’ll mean that we have to follow a schedule and be productive for this year.

So we sent out this book, Facial Features of French Explorers, which is just a saddle stitch.

We were starting, we thought all of them would be sort of zine-y books like this, right?

This one’s kind of these made-up stories that Matthew made-up about real French explorers and then based on his descriptions, I drew the pictures. So there’s no, there’s very little fact. This was based on like three seconds of research on Wikipedia.

Matthew: The books in general are social commentary, critical commentary.

Jessica: So for people who are listening to this in on the podcast, Robbi just held up a book that has probably 20 pages or something like that, small, you know, sort of a small paragraph, and then line drawing, colored line drawings, of imaginary explorer faces, which are hilarious. And we’ll have, we’ll have a link to some information about that in the show notes.

Matthew: And so to get to your question about the letters, Jessica, cause I think that’s where we started thinking about whatever our brand is, whatever that means. I would write a letter in a very earnest, straightforward, at times sort of overly scholarly and didactic tone. And then Robbi would go through and make redactions where she would cross out my words and just openly mock me and undermine the points I was making.

And it was part of establishing this dynamic where we have this interplay, not just between text and image, but between our two personalities.

And it, I think it, it sort of plays out in our collaboration. You talked about how we spend all of our time together. Even before we started making books together, we always worked at the same place.

We always, I mean, we have spent 98% of our waking lives together since we met late 1999. So I guess it just has worked out for us that way, both in terms of life partnership and creative partnership.

But the Idiots Books is what it was called, that subscription service. That first year we made 10 books.

At the end of that year, we were having a great time. We were not making money, but we weren’t losing it and my boss from the corporate job called me back and asked if I would be willing to come back halftime from home. And the halftime from home arrangement gave me enough time to write the books. And Robbi whose part just takes longer than mine, the illustration part takes longer, did the art and we had the predictable income we needed to comfortably start having kids, and you know, keep on going as functioning adults in the world while making our creative work.

So that was the really wonderful thing that happened and I still have that job. I mean, that’s sort of the secret that not everybody knows, but 17 years after I started that job, I still work halftime. And I’m a communications consultant, strategist, and writer who makes college recruitment materials.

Robbi: Sounds very fancy, Matthew. I’m so impressed.

Matthew: So that’s but no, but that’s, that’s what has enabled us to keep pushing forward in creativity. And keep having children. And keep, you know, we don’t suffer. We live a perfectly comfortable life while being full-time creatives and I just have this other thing on top of it that pays the bills.

Jessica: Yeah. And that is great. I’m really glad you said that. I’m sure that your solo creative endeavors now provide a lot larger proportion of your income than they used to, and you know, all that kind of stuff.

But that idea of having just one thread of stable income, part-time, flexible, from home, all those kinds of things. It’s something I talk to my students about all the time when they’re thinking about their future. And I say, the dream could be certainly to quit your day job, for real quit your day job, and walk away from it. But there are also arguments for, you know, maintaining that thread and just having kind of stability there and it’s, it’s, you know, what’s coming, you don’t, you’re not responsible for all the pieces the way you are with your, your own business.

Robbi: Absolutely. And it has, I mean, it also gives you creative freedom to, We never had to worry about If the books were going to make money. We made some of the weirdest, little strange little books and none, I mean, none of them made money. But we loved doing it and we wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it without having Matthew’s job.

It just worked out, you know, I… not just the illustration takes a long time, but I also do all the design and like a lot of extra work that goes into it that was just, that I couldn’t do if I had a full-time job

Matthew: either.

But you, you gained the skills in graphic design, page layout, doing two years of a graphic designer for the same firm that I work for now.

So it’s, it’s amazing how reinforcing our professional experience is with our self-publishing and now professional publishing experience. We couldn’t have done one without the other.

Robbi: Yeah. I mean, another important thing to note is that we were professionals for 10 years before we started doing this.

So it’s a lot of times, we do a lot of talks at colleges, and a lot of times student students will ask us, well, how do I, how do I get to where you are as quickly as possible?

And we’re just like, there’s no, there’s no quickly about it. Like it’s putting in a lot of time in a lot of places. And, and it’s also luck. Like things have to break your way again, and again, and again, in order to make it all happen. so

Jessica: Although, I mean, do you feel like that, some of the choices you’ve made you’ve created your own luck? Because I feel like, that’s what happens. Is like when you it’s it’s not really luck when you’ve been putting in 10 years of, you know, work, learning your skills.

Robbi: right.

Yeah. I mean, we have this story of the, our sort of first breakthrough into commercial publishing was that we were at -were we at MoCCA or SPX,

Matthew: That was at MoCCA.

Robbi: Yeah. So we have, we set up a table at MoCCA and a guy from Disney came by our table and bought Ten Thousand Stories.

And now at the time we didn’t, I don’t remember him. We didn’t talk to him. There was no, like, he just did that and then he held onto it for like two years.

And then he was at a production meeting at Little, Brown and they were doing. So, Ten Thousand Stories is a mix and match book. So it’s divided into three pages, for the people who can see, it’s divided into three sections, for- oh four sections for each page, and then they swip and swap and you can mix up the words and you can mix up the pictures and they recombine in 10,000, so you have 10,000 different possibilities.

And so, so Little, Brown was making a mix and match book in the Super Hero Squad series, which is Marvel and that’s why this Disney guy was there. And he said, “Oh, I met some people who know how to do this,” and that’s how we got our foot in the door and that was extremely lucky, right? The guy happened to pick it up.

Matthew: Well, but you know what? Before that even happened, we did this book called the Super Hero Squad Flips Out, which had our names on the back in four point type, because we were not the point.

Robbi was not allowed to actually draw any of the characters. She was given a bank of clip art and was asked to sort of build these compositions, using the clip art. I was given top secret dossier of the Marvel superhero kid versions from which to write these stories. So not our creative content. We did as much as we could to be creative and inventive within these very tight confines.

It turned into a book that nobody read and wanted to give us any credit for, but it turned into a great relationship with this editor who said, I like these two. They’ve got good ideas. Let’s make a book together.

So that then turned into our first actual commercially published book with, with a publishing company.

Jessica: So, to again to, explain the the visuals we’re talking about here, Ten Thousand Stories, the original Ten Thousand Stories, is a, self-published, spiral bound book with strips in it that, that flip back and forth in order to form different stories.

And then the, the superhero version is the same thing, but with superheroes. And then Ten Thousand Stories was then published as a, you know, commercially published version by Chronicle Books.

Robbi: Yes.

Matthew: Yes.

Jessica: And this is actually, this book is actually in some ways why we became better friends. I think. because Matt, Matt Madden, my husband, is really interested in constraints and Oubapo, Oulipo. This, these literary movements that have to do with, rules and, and, and playing games with, with comics and with prose.

And this is a classic example of an Oulipian kind of structure. So, you know, it’s like, the work, And I think this is what you’re saying about the editor, is like it’s by making things and putting things out and by doing the legwork and willing, being willing to do it yourself, that you start to make, connections and to, bond with other people both people who are going to help you in your professional career as far as like editors and so on, but the reason we’re doing this right now is because I’m friends with you, because You know of this kind of thing. So it’s like the work makes those links possible.

Matthew: So in in terms of what you were saying about making luck. I think this one anecdote has about five different examples of making luck.

First of all. We’ve relentlessly and doggedly made books. Right? We self-published 45 books with Idiots Books and this one book that we made happened to find its way into this one guy’s hand and that turned into this opportunity, but we had to make all the books to know which one that would do.

Okay, so sort of dogged relentlessness, which can only happen if you love it enough to do it for its own sake.

It’s also a matter of showing up and representing yourself. Right? We were at the table at MoCCA.

Sometimes we see people at MoCCA with beautiful work who kind of shrink back and don’t project that they want to share it with you. Robbi and I both being behind the table together helps a lot, but we try to get out there and say—yeah, go ahead, Robbi.

Robbi: I was just going to say, if you’re ever behind a table trying to hawk your wares, bring along a friend, and it makes all the difference. It’s very awkward to sit whenever, like Matthew has to go to the bathroom and I have to stand behind there by myself, sales, like, tank. So if you’re, yes.

So you just have to stand there and be attentive without being oppressive and be engaging. And sometimes that just means engaging with your table partner. Which that’s just like an insider tip for selling it at those shows. I think it helps a lot to have somebody with you.

Jessica: Yeah. Well, if anybody is doing those things, I would say, go visit, if you guys still have a table, go see your table.

It’s always looked beautiful. You know, you always had these great racks of stuff and it was just very engaging and yeah, I mean, standing up and like making eye contact and all those kinds of things. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to do.

But I wanted to get back to something you were saying earlier. Matthew, about the idea of building out your brand, starting with those letters, starting with your presentation of idiots Books. Um, And I want to just ask you, because I mean, this is one of the big questions that people have about how do you figure out something to align with a way to be sort of consistent and you guys have such a consistent brand, like it’s it’s so you, and it’s so authentic and it’s so, energetic, like you it’s like goofy, you know, and then there’s this transparency to it.

So like, how did that evolve for you? Were there moments when you were really struggling to figure that out or did it happen naturally or?

Robbi: I think it happened sort of naturally. But we did, we have narrowed it down. Because the times that we have tried to, when somebody says, oh, you really should do a book about this, or you really should try doing this. Whenever we try to do that, it doesn’t work. And it’s usually, it’s very clearly unsuccessful in whatever metrics that we use to measure these things. So

Jessica: What metrics do you use these things?

Robbi: We, I mean, whether, honestly, whether we feel good about it, I think. Whether we think that we’ve created something that’s, that’s, that we like. And so I think a lot of times we just have tried to do other things and it hasn’t worked so we’ve stopped trying to do it the way other people tell us to do it.

And that has helped a lot. What do you think Matthew?

Matthew: Well, in terms of brand, I think the reason that our brand– if that’s the right word for it, even is consistent is because it’s so rooted in who we are, we’re not trying to make anything that we’re not.

We have a very natural rapport that… It’s helped so much to have the two of us. Either the one of us had to do some of the ridiculous things we do on our own, it would be very, for me, uncomfortable.

But the fact that I have this dynamic with this other person, with whom I had 98% genetic similarity, in terms of what we believe and value and love to do, but those 2% of friction…

Jessica: wait,

wait wait, 98% genetic similarity?

Matthew: I’m talking about, in terms of…

Robbi: Creative genetics.

Matthew: Creative genetics.

Robbi: We’re also, brother and sister. just kidding.

Matthew: I think we’re 94% genetically compatible with goldfish, right? So I think actually I’m under selling our… [laughter]

But, but I guess what I mean is Robbi and I have shared values. We have shared aesthetics. We have shared insistence on quality. We have shared insistence on treating people well, like, the things that we value that hold the brand together we share.

The things that we are different in, in terms of personality type, our approach to process, just our general like affect, there’s enough contradiction that there are sparks.

So I can be wholly Matthew. I can play the role of Matthew wholeheartedly, knowing that Robbi will temper and check me. I can be way too earnest, and Robbi can be way too the opposite of earnest. When you put us together, we balance each other out.

And that happens in life, too. Like, if our brand is Matthew is the, hard-charging, wants to get stuff done super efficiently, and Robbi is the, I would never get out of bed if Matthew didn’t give me a reason to in the morning. Like in the middle of that, Robbi keeps me from spontaneously combusting and I keep her from—

Robbi: unconscious all the time

Matthew: Right. So, so, so we, we create a space where we keep each other sort of balanced in that respect.

We also keep each other balanced in terms of sort of mood and temperament. If one of us is having a bad day, the other one will just by default, have a buoyant joyous day. Like we balance each other out and we pull each other up. So there’s a real symbiosis going on that I don’t think we contrived. I think just is. And we’ve refined over the years.

But in terms of how it affects our work, I think we’re very fortunate that even though we are now making work for other people, for the other people to make money, right, it’s now in a business environment, not just in this pure creative environment, we’re still making work that we both love.

And I think the, the, the insistent through line throughout all of this, it’s only making stuff that we really feel aligned with in terms of values and creative principles.

So one of the through lines of our work is that it’s funny.

One is that it’s very sort of word-oriented. I think, you know, we really like, we care about the quality of language. That the language and the words always have very dynamic relationship. Robbi is never just illustrating what I’m writing, but she’s always sort of a co-author in terms of shaping and determining content.

So I think very early on through our self-published stuff, we set up some creative values that we have not veered from. And I think if you’re very deliberate and purposeful upfront about what you will and will not create and you stick to it, then you’re more likely at the end where it starts to become more of a business or a profession or a money generating mechanism for you and others, to still be doing what you love.

Robbi: I think one of the benefits of having done self-publishing for 10 years is that we were able to figure out what it is that we cared about and what it is that we would and would not do, before other people were counting on us make money for them, right?

Matthew: Including working together. had tried at the outset with no body of work beneath our feet, no connections to say, “We will only work together, publishers” people would have laughed at us.

Robbi: Yeah.

Matthew: That’s not how it works. Yeah. But now we only work together.

Jessica: I was just wondering, so obviously you guys have a really strong relationship, strong marriage, you know, love to be around each other, you have to. And, and you look very happy. So that’s all wonderful.

But I wondered if you can also, cause there, I get this question a lot from people about working with partners, working with you know, romantic partners, various kinds, but also non-romantic partners, just partners. What are some of the things you guys have run into and had to resolve As far as working together?

Matthew: We have one big sort of existential difference that has raised its head over and over and again.

Robbi: like it comes on a cycle.

That we work very… in opposite ways. Matthew is somebody who gets a job done two weeks early, has time to revise, think about it, do all, you know, whatever. He’s always done… anytime there’s an event to be at, he’s there five minutes early and is wondering why nobody else is ready.

So I’m somebody who will arrive exactly five minutes late. I make my deadlines, but the two weeks preceding the deadline are a complete nightmare for everyone in the family because I am just working 24/7.

Matthew’s trying to juggle the whole rest of the family. I can’t be bothered. I have to, the way that I work is I have to drop into a hole, and if I’m distracted or if I, if people are coming in asking me stuff, I can’t get my work done.

So generally speaking, like, our oppositional… Matthew’s like, why can’t you just start when we have two months notice, start doing like three pages a day and then you’ll be done a week early. And somehow I can’t manage to work that way.

And so that has been… because, because we’re married, it’s especially difficult because he’s the one who has to take up all the slack, right? When I’m in that mode. If we were, if we were not married and I was doing this for a job, I suspect it would be less maddening.

Matthew: It would be not maddening at all. The work is always superlative, and it’s on time. If I didn’t have to watch it get made, it would be delightful.

So, no, and really honestly, this is, yeah, I think this is just different approaches and I think it’s just part of the deal. I mean, we, we go about our creative work differently.

It’s frustrating sometimes when situations like Robbi describes come to pass.

So in terms of the creative product, the creative product always turns out great.

Robbi: Thanks

Matthew: In terms of the process of getting there? It is sometimes bumpy, but it’s part of what we do and honestly, part of what I’ve had to do over the years is just sort of adjust my expectations, which is a good lesson for any part of life that’s frustrating. Right? So we get where we need to go

Robbi: and

I mean its also been a sort of a creative conundrum for me, because I have been…

And this, I say this for the people who are last minute, people who would be good putting out a fire, right. There’s some of us who work best under crisis. And I don’t like to work under crisis, but I can effin take care of business when things are going down.

So for my entire life, I was told you should wake up early and get your work done early, and get it done before you go to work and not procrastinate, and don’t put things off and all of this stuff. And I tried. I have tried so many times and I’ve tried so hard to do it in what I thought was the right way.

It’s not the right way for me.

I don’t do good work. I don’t do as good work when I’m slowly and deliberately working. I do my best work when I’m like dropped in a hole and I’m in a frenzy and that’s all that I’m thinking about and that’s all that I’m doing.

And I’ve had to I’ve, you know, I spent a lot of time defending myself to Matthew creatively, but at the same time beating myself up because I felt like I should just learn how to do it the right way.

And it’s only been in the last few years where I finally said, and it’s because Matthew has also finally said, look, I’m not going to, I’m going to stop trying to make you do it the way that I want it to be done.

And I’ve stopped saying…it It may be the right way for everyone else, but it’s just not the right way for me.

And I can try really hard and spend a lot of energy trying to do it that way. But we’re just going to have to suck it up and have a sucky end, like, build-up to the deadline

Matthew: Here’s the thing. characteristics of Robbi that make you approach your illustrative work that way, solve problems in other aspects of our life and relationship.

Your incredible focus, your incredible ability to lock in on a problem and spend a long time diving deep into it. That’s not the way my brain works at all.

So Robbi is able to code our website, do our taxes.

Another very formative part of Robbi’s being in character that’s also kind of about our business model is that every summer, since she was 18 months old, Robbi has gone with her family to the far reaches of the Alaskan Tundra and been part of a commercial salmon fishing operation.

And commercial salmon fishing happens when the salmon say it happens. So you often will have to stay up wearing wet rubber pants for three or four days straight pulling Sockeye salmon out of the Bering Sea with your bare hands, not sleeping, not eating. Think that is where Robbi’s soul was forged and that is why she works the way she works. And that is the delight of Robbi.

And that is why I don’t recommend marrying Robbi because now I have to go that every summer.

when, when, when I need to go to sleep, I look at Robbi and I’m going to go to sleep. You keep fishing. And you know, there are times when I simply give up.

I expend all of my energy in great spurts. I get my work done early, but then I am done. I am done. I do not have stamina. I do not have longevity.

We work differently, but because of the different ways we work, we get to cover all the bases. If we were more similar, we would not be able to do the, the extent of things we do because we have very different skill sets.

So we have figured out in the universe of who we are over the past 20- some years, who should do what thing and we, we stick with that.

I am the one that gets up in the morning and feeds the kids breakfast and does the morning shift.

Robbi does the night shift cause I turn into a pumpkin at eight o’clock. If there are crises in the middle of the night, Robbi deals with those.

I mean, we each have our thing that we do in our business and our life and our creative work. It’s usually fun. There are moments where it’s like, ah, but we live with those because the end result is awesome.

Jessica: I love it. Yeah, no, that’s so great. And I recognize a lot of that. I mean, Matt and I have collaborated on a lot of projects as well. And we also have complimentary skillsets and maybe that’s kind of the key. The takeaway from this for other people is, is don’t look for people who are similar to you and learn to accept those differences and look for the strengths in those differences.

I mean, if there’s one thing I’ve learned after coaching, what like 700 people or something in the Creative Focus Workshop, is that everybody’s different. Everybody works differently and every method for working is fine. And beating yourself up is the one thing that will stop you.

At the top of the show, I invited you to the free simplify to amplify round table where I meet monthly with a group of awesome creative professionals like you to dig into the challenging questions that come up all the time when you’re out there on your own. Trying to run a small business and make it work.

This is just a quick nudge.

If you’re listening to this episode and questions are popping up for you. If you’re thinking about how, what we’re talking about would apply in your case? Or maybe new ideas are bubbling up.

I got to say our simplify to amplify sessions, STAR for short are the perfect place to get more clarity.

Save your zoom window at Jessica abel.com/star. And let’s get you moving in the right direction.

It’s free. It’s live and I’d love to see you there. That’s Jessica abel.com/star to save your spot. All right back to the show.

All right, so let’s shift gears slightly here. I, I did have one last question about self-publishing. Going from self-publishing. I’d love to hear a little bit of your reflection on the difference between the two, and advantages and disadvantages for you, given that you did set up such uh vision and body of work before you started working with publishers. That you came into it as equals essentially, which not everybody does. But how does that, how does that play out for you now?

Robbi: I think there’s benefits… commercial publishing is great because you actually have a team of people who do the things that you are not really good at.

As much as we had a consistent brand and we showed up and all of those things, we were never…

You know, it’s funny in self-publishing, like the greatest success maybe is, I think I heard you say this Jess, getting published by Fantagraphics, right.

That’s like, that’s like. You know, we would go to SPX and be like, oh, like maybe we’ll submit our work and get like a, what is it? Einstein No. what Ignatz, Ignatz whatever.

Matthew: I didn’t know you had these dreams, Robbi.

Robbi: Well, I remember once we submitted to Ignatz, and we were like, maybe this, this will be the key to what? I don’t know what we thought we were, what was going to happen, but like the peak um,

Jessica: That’s a key insight there. “I don’t know what we think, what we going to happen

Matthew: That’s a peak insight! we never had a plan beyond we want to make stuff So we started the subscription service because we wanted to force ourselves to make stuff together We shifted from idiots books to Bobbledy Books, which was our children’s self-publishing wing, because somebody told us that we might be able to sell more copies because there’s a better market for children’s books

Jessica: Did that work?

Matthew: No. Because those were more expensive for us to produce So we made even less money

Jessica: This is one of our family’s favorites right here

Matthew: Yes

Jessica: The Girl with Frogs in Her Ears. It’s an excellent one. I recommend it to everybody.

Matthew: Thank you Thank you

Jessica: I feel like I have frogs in my ears when I’m

this thing, like wireless earphones.

Matthew: We started a letterpress company for a while. We bought a 1921 Chandler Price like weighed three tons and had to put it in our house.

We tried that for we’ve tried all these different things. We’ve iterated with creativity The core of it has always been doing stuff together.

And so now we have ended up in this place where we’re publishing books with MacMillan and Random House and they are books that we never would have first of all thought to make and never could have pitched without the the runway we built a brick at a time by just following the scent of creative opportunity Right?

Robbi: Let me just say to, to answer your question, Jessica. So the books that we are working on now are middle grade, densely illustrated. They’re not graphic novels, but they have lots and lots of pictures on every page.

Matthew: They’re called hybrid.

Robbi: They’re called hybrid books and they’re, you know, how many? 360 pages or something, right?

So that is something we could never have self-published. Our self-publishing mode was like literally printing stuff up on our printer and stapling it together on our living room table, and trimming it down. Like, that was how we were self publishing.

So, it literally would have been impossible for us to make that kind of book as self-publishers.

So that’s one benefit. So that’s a creative benefit.

The other thing is that now we are spending most of our time on the creative side of things, instead of on traveling to shows and…

Matthew: Or just filling 500 envelopes. Making 500 self-published books.

There was a real thrill to that for a while, but I eventually got tired of how much manpower was going into folding and sealing envelopes and doing labels and…

Jessica: Isn’t this why you had children though? Isn’t this the point?

Matthew: They’re not useful

Robbi: They’re only now starting to get useful. I filled an order for books yesterday and I made Alden– like Alden’s raring to like have a job. She’s 12. And so I had her helping me fill the orders, and I just was like, go get the tape. And she got the tape. I was like, this is what it’s about. Now I see we just started self-publishing too early.

Matthew: I want to give a shout out to, you mentioned this briefly, Robbi, but the, the real benefit for me of moving into the commercial publishing is getting to work with editors.

Robbi was an incredible editor for the 10 years we worked together. I could never have made my books without her. She gave me the feedback and sounding board I needed.

But professional book editors, I have learned so much from both of the people that I’ve worked with first at Macmillan and now at Random House, who just taught me how to build stories and how to weave together narratives and how to just think about writing in a way that maybe I would have learned if graduate school had had me, but now I’m getting chance to learn.

So my own writing ability has taken off exponentially. And being part of publishing houses means there’s a publicist who’s out there getting us opportunities to be in front of people, who’s getting us a profile in the Washington Post, who’s getting us to do a blog post on We Need Diverse Books. You know, things like that, that either we couldn’t have lined up ourselves or it would have been a lot harder for us to line up ourselves.

So we have the benefit of these really smart art directors and publicists and people who think about covers and things that just make our creative product better and bigger than it could have been before.

Robbi: That said, that said. One of the non-benefits with working with other people is that you have to make compromises, right?

So the great thing about self-publishing is no matter how weird our idea was or how silly it seemed or how little money it was going to make, we could do it. We just did it. We would just do it. So there was a lot of freedom. I’m still like, I’m still very wistful of our self-publishing days. We just don’t have time to self-publish anymore because we’re so consumed with all this other stuff. But we keep saying someday, we’ll get back to making our weirdo little books that nobody buys.

Jessica: The kids are getting older. So, you know, soon, soon you’ll

Robbi: That’s

Jessica: entire

Matthew: We started over and now we have a three-year-old, don’t know. We, we, we, we just really messed that all up.

But no, I do believe there’s a time and a place for us to get back into self-publishing. And right now there’s just so plates in the air that yeah.

Jessica: I wanted to ask you too, because, and I’m going to touch on the salmon thing in a minute, cause that’s just like so left field. I love it.

Robbi, your mom was a ceramicist and had a shop and then I believe it was your parents who, I don’t know why, and I’d love to learn why, decided that going to Alaska and doing commercial salmon fishing would be a great idea. Right.

So they’re entrepreneurial. Right. Your, your parents are, let’s just do this thing kind of people. and I I’m, guessing Matthew that your parents are maybe not quite those people.

Matthew: I mean, my parents are amazing people but

Jessica: There’s

Matthew: they

Jessica: They’re clearly amazing. And I see them in your family photos Alaska. It’s not like they’re not game, but I imagine you didn’t get this from them.

Matthew: There is a different version of my life where I never left the company that I worked for and I have just a very much more predictable sort of orderly existence, but I don’t get all of this other stuff.

So marrying Robbi, as I warned you all against, means marrying this, this culture of sort of fearless entrepreneurship. That it’s just transformed my life in the most delightful way.

So Robbi has given me permission to take risks that aren’t actually risks, right? I think so often the things that feel risky might actually not be quite as scary as we think they are if we look around and see what what’s, the worst that can happen. The answer is not always as bad as we think.

And there was, there’ve been a couple of times when we have really jumped off the expected path. And it’s worked out for us because we were able to go into it with such conviction because of Robbi’s belief in herself and in the spirit of adventure.

So yeah, that’s definitely the legacy of her parents.

Jessica: What was the biggest mistake you made jumping off the path and what did, what happened as a result? Maybe something it looked like a mistake and then wasn’t, but like for a moment you’re like, oh, that was not good.

Robbi: I mean, I think this was an accident of him, Matthew, not getting into graduate school. At the time we had felt we had figured out our plan, which was a life of being in academia and creative work, sort of, as part of like Matthew would maybe teach, be a creative writing professor and I would be an art professor. So that was, that was the plan.

Matthew: Yeah, we had a story of what our perfect creative lives could be and the story was I get my MFA. Robbi has her MFA. We’re professors. We publish. We do freelance. Like, it was a really awesome story. We would have been so excited if that story had happened. That story was denied us and so we had to author a different story.

So I guess there’s two ways to go about it. You can have power of conviction behind a story and try everything you can to make that version of the story come true. Or you can pick a thread and follow the thread and let the thread itself be the driving force and see what story materializes. So this is a retrospect, but I’m giving that advice to myself. That’s how it turned out.

But for us, if we had stuck to the original story, we might never have gotten it and we certainly wouldn’t have stumbled on this one.

So the biggest mistake I think that I made or that we made along the way is when we first had the opportunity to work with an agent.

Somebody wanted to work with us. We were like, yes, there were red flags from the start that it wasn’t a good match, but we were so excited at the idea that this was our entree into this new world that we didn’t really investigate fully enough. And we just made a bad match, that that was difficult and unproductive.

And when we finally sort of moved on to a new agent who was the perfect match, who was introduced to us by someone who knew us deeply, our editor at a Chronicle, we said, you know, who are some agents who you think we’d really sync with?

She told us, and that’s been blissful. So I guess if I had given myself advice, like value yourself, not to leap at the first possibility, but really make sure that whoever you align yourself with has the shared sort of vision, priorities, et cetera.

So that, but you know, that it’s hard for

Robbi: That’s impossible lesson to learn, too. Right?

Matthew: I

Robbi: starting out. Yeah., And what were we going to do, to tell this person no, we don’t want you to represent us?

What we could have done is do a little bit of homework and see if there was anybody else who would represent us, but we were sort of like, oh, this person.

Matthew: I was, I was

Robbi: Yeah.

Matthew: Yeah.

Jessica: I mean, it’s extremely exciting, but I think it is actually something that it is a moment when you have to, you know…

When you’re going to be committing to a relationship and there’s going to be real skin in the game one way or another. There are times when you have to say no, even though it feels really painful and scary.

And I think trusting your gut on that and saying at least let’s put the brakes on this, slow down, see what’s going on. It seems like that’s a learnable lesson.

Robbi: Yeah.

Matthew: The lesson I give to the old me is talk to some other people about it. Reach out to other people who you know who can give you advice. We were just like, yes, let’s do it.

Robbi: At the time we honestly didn’t even really know what an agent did or how they could be useful other than like signing contracts. Which we were like, okay, well, we’re glad that somebody else will do that. But obviously it’s a much more complicated relationship and job than that. So, yeah, that was, that was a mistake.

Matthew: But that, feel like I can’t think of too many things that feel like real.

We’ve had things that didn’t work out like the letterpress business but.

Jessica: I don’t think you guys, the way you run your life, they’re almost , mistakes. You know, it’s because you just you’re like, okay, next thing. That didn’t go as expected. And so all right. That’s information. And I think that’s of course the best way to look at mistakes is, that was interesting. Let’s keep moving,

Matthew: I’ll tell you about a mistake we’re about to make.

I know that this experience is going to kill me, but we have purchased a 24 foot school bus that we are converting into a tiny home that we and the four kids and the puppy are going to live in for a year, while we travel and visit high poverty schools in all 50 states, give away 50,000 free books, and sort of blog and video casts the entire thing.

Robbi: That’s the next project.

Matthew: We’re fundraising for this right now and… We were going to leave in September, but then the pandemic happened, so it’s been delayed at least a year. But that is, that is sort of taking what we do and what we are.

I mean, it’s definitely for the kids that we’re going to visit on the road. But it’s also a project to draw attention to educational inequity and the power of creativity and specifically books to energize kids, to create a ripple effect, to to make good things happen after we’re on the road to the next stop.

So the way I am wired, it’s going to actually, probably physically end my existence, but hopefully Robbi will be able to pick me up. I won’t have a room to go decompress in after dinner, but it’s, the adventure sounds too much to pass up.

Robbi: We’ll bring a little pup tent for you. We can throw the pup tent out and you can just lie there quietly yourself.

Jessica: I’m picturing one of those, like pop-up things on the roof

Matthew: Oh, we have we, yeah, we have to. There’s too many to actually sleep in the bus.

Jessica: That, that brings me to my final topic, which is extreme partnering to extreme parenting. So, working at home, uh, with the kids at home, are you kids in conventional school?

Matthew: Yes. Yes, yes. They go to the local public schools that Robbi went to.

Robbi: The very school that I went to as a kid. of their teachers were even the same

Jessica: That’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool. Cause I was just, you know, then you’re thinking about like riding a bus for a year. That’s obviously going to be a homeschool year.

Matthew: Yeah,

Robbi: yeah,

Matthew: yeah,

Robbi: Right. And, And ultimately like I got to say, our kids are– except for the fourth one– are very sensible and adaptable.

I think in part because every summer, literally we take 24 hours to get up to Alaska, via all these planes. We’re sleeping in airports. We get up there there’s no, they have learned to roll with it, whatever it may be and for that.

Matthew: Kids, kids are capable of more than we realize. The first summer I went to Alaska with Robbi, the neighbor’s daughter, who was two, and lived a quarter of a mile away through a whole sort of alder forest in which bears occasionally wandered, would walk through the alder forest to our house, stop at our door, take off her boots, knock, have a snack, eat the snack and go home.

And that, you know, and she would take her coat off, and she’d do all the buttons. There’s… I mean, kids can do more than we realize. And so our kids are not quite that free range, but they’re, they’re further.

And we, we, we give them a lot of autonomy in part because it’s helpful. And in part, because they rise to the occasion.

So they do a lot of taking care of each other, of taking care of themselves, of entertaining themselves and thank goodness that they are capable of that. So, yeah, except for that fourth one. Yeah. But

Jessica: Oh, is this a

phase that they all went through at that

Matthew: No, this one

Robbi: This one was born trouble. Yep.

Matthew: He’s a lot like Robbi.

Robbi: You know, if I hadn’t had the previous three, who are perfectly well-behaved and good kids, I would be like, man, I am like the worst parent ever. This kid is the worst. He was the kid where, when you’re out in the grocery store, there’s other people like, why won’t that one?

And I’m always like, no, no, I have three other children. They’re very good. It’s this one.

Matthew: I think he’s going to do, he’s going to do great things in the world. We have to make sure he harnesses his powers for good.

We do, we do a lot of tag team parenting, Jessica, because we each need our time to do our work. So I’m sure you and Matt are familiar with this too. You have to divide and conquer and we get through it.

And the kids, the kids think what we do is cool. So they’re excited that do it. They understand that it means we can’t always be there, all six of us together, as much as we’d like but.

Robbi: I mean, there’s also the benefit and this is a benefit I had growing up, that in the summer when we go to Alaska for that five weeks, we’re all together.

That’s something where we’re… actually, I’m working all the time up there too. What am I talking about?

But it feels like, it feels like we’re not constantly being like go in the other room like I have to get this done. It, it feels like we have a very strong thing that we all do together.

Matthew: And to answer your question. Robbi’s dad started the Alaska adventure specifically and purposely to create an experience for the family to do together every year. And until this past summer, the entire family came back for 40 consecutive years.

It is this real multi-generational focus on people. The fishing itself is a thing that we do for the sake of the community it creates and not the other way around. The fishing is not a reliable source source of income.

Jessica: Yeah, that’s clear. I mean, it’s, from the way you write about it, it’s clear that that really is what it’s about. It sounds totally magical and awesome. Also super scary, like,

Matthew: It’s It’s it’s undescribable unpleasant. And yet. And yet it’s magical. Yes. Yes.

Jessica: And I mean, I love the idea of, my kids are not as free range as yours are, but they’re a lot more free range than a lot of other kids are, because I really believe, as you say, that kids are capable of a lot more than we think, but they’ve almost literally been inside the house…

Robbi: Yeah.

Jessica: You know, for My son basically refuses to leave, whenever we ask him to leave the house.

We live in a townhouse in downtown Philadelphia, so it’s yeah, it’s rough. And so thinking about that and the freedom of that, and also it’s putting them in a different, almost in a different time period, in a sense.

You know, even though you have phones, you have some electricity, it’s not like you have nothing, you have cars and stuff like that, but it’s like, you don’t have running water, electricity, indoor toilets, and the kids deal.

My kids flip their lids. I didn’t early enough on that stuff.

Matthew: They’ve been going since before they knew any better. So they didn’t, they didn’t know to protest.

Robbi: Mean, the funny thing is, in order to get to Alaska, we have to take three jets and then one, one Bush plane. And really the trip is 24 hours long longer sometimes.

And literally when we take a flight that is less than five hours long, the kids are like wait a minute. I thought we were going somewhere! [laughter] I thought we were going on a trip. This is just like a couple hours on a plane. I don’t understand.

So yeah, they’ve just been, you know, they’ve been doing it since they were born, so it makes it a lot easier to throw stuff at them that’s unexpected.

Jessica: Yeah, that sounds that just, it does, it sounds magical. It sounds amazing. And filthy and disgusting and…

Robbi: yeah it’s all of all of those things.

Jessica: So we do have one question from Shelly, um, who asks, how much do you believe in fate or coincidence is playing a part in your journey?

Matthew: Whoa. Okay, So Shelly I am a creature of habit. Every single day when I lived in Massachusetts I would go running in the afternoon and I would run on one side– the beautiful side of this building in the town where I lived. One day for whatever reason I ran through the parking lot side of the building by the dumpsters and right there by the dumpsters I found Robbi.

She was getting out of a car and I ran into her. We’d gone to college together so we said hi how are you doing? We exchanged email addresses. We wrote emails together every day for a year. And then eventually Robbi came to visit. And that was that. That was the only time I ever ran that way. That seems like fate slash coincidence to me. That was something, that was Robbi’s magnetic aura drawing me into the madness.

I don’t know. What’s your answer Robbi ?

Robbi: I think absolutely. I, I mean, yes I do. I do. I, I don’t know if, I don’t know if I would call it fate, but absolutely coincidence. I think some things just happen and that there’s not anything that we did to make them happen. And they are a gift from the universe to us. Like, as corny as that sounds like I do think that a lot of things happen that have benefited me and us that just

Matthew: Some really crazy wonderful things have happened to us that yes we can say we made our own luck but we made our own luck on a foundation of such fortune and privilege that we both feel like we have to make the most of it.

And meeting each other and being made so much more capable because of each other I feel I’m even more in need to do good and make beautiful things and interesting things as a result of that, so. Hope that was an but yeah.

Jessica: Yeah, I hear ya. Of course, like, of course there’s, there’s making your own luck, there’s privilege, there’s all of those things that go into it and then you have to take what comes and things can come that are good and things can come that are bad. And roll with it.

Matthew: Yeah.

Jessica: Where can people find you? And you know, you’re raising money for this trip. Is there someplace you can send people to?

Matthew: So So, if people are interested in that, follow us, and then they will be informed when it’s time, we’re sort of in the quiet phase of fundraising right now. If people want to send us money, go for it.

Robbi: Like big chunks of money. We’re all… where we can figure that we can

Matthew: So Instagram is the best place to follow us. robbi.and.matthew. But Robbi doesn’t have an E

Robbi: Yeah. BI

Matthew: R-O-B-B-I Dot A-N-D Matthew.

Website, Robbi and Matthew.

YouTube, Robbi and Matthew. So those are, we do a video every day, every day. A 60 minute video called the Daily Minute.

Robbi: 60

Jessica: second

Matthew: video


Robbi: Big

Matthew: hour.

Where we, I don’t know, I shouldn’t describe the Daily Minute because I’m of the Daily Minute.

But for a minute every day we opine or report on something or other, usually not have much substance. But if that, if you like this thing, we’ve got going, check it out on Instagram. If you want to follow in the longer term, and we’ll take you all around the country with us in a year or two.

Jessica: The Daily Minute is something I didn’t bring up specifically. You’ve been doing this for several years now, right? Is it every day?

Matthew: Every

Robbi: but like an

Matthew: three years. A friend of ours told us to do it,

Robbi: day

Matthew: we used to do longer videos. Yeah. Well this, this with this

Robbi: This is an important friend to listen to. You do what she says.

No, at the time we were doing live streams on Facebook that were super fun. We were having a good time, like just in our studio. Matthew sometimes would do Matthew draws, which is this goofy thing where Matthew draws celebrities and he’s not a great drawer. So it was like, people would have to guess who he was drawing. So, so, um, so we were doing all this goofy stuff, live streaming and this woman said, I love you guys,

hour is too,

like it’s I don’t want there. Like

I want one

Matthew: friend of ours who

Jessica: But have you literally done it every day?

Matthew: have missed three days in the last three years

We’ve just forgotten Yeah, We haven’t missed

Jessica: That is amazing. But it’s also, this is constraint, right? This is also it’s like constrained marketing. So, you know, having a rule like it has to be 60 seconds. There’s a countdown clock.

Robbi: Only if Matthew says something offensive accidentally occasionally we need the, we need the content to be kid-friendly because librarians follow us and we want to be our books are for elementary school kids, so we want it to be accessible to them even if they don’t always understand it So we rerecord if we say something untoward. Otherwise we have a one-take policy. Yeah .

Jessica: I love it. Okay.

Awesome. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. Thanks for everybody for coming. Thank you, Matthew. Robbi, has been a pleasure.

Matthew: Ours as well. Thank you Jessica And thanks for joining us. Bye friends.

Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.

Our show is produced by Matt Madden. Our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden. And I’m your host, Jessica Abel.

You can find all our takeaways as well as the links and extras we mentioned today, Plus transcripts in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe. And please take a sec to pop over to apple podcasts and leave us a rating and review.

And we absolutely love to hear your reactions and takeaways on Instagram. Tag us @autonomouscreative.

See ya next time!


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