Jacob Mann

Stories start in many different ways. This one started with a conversation with a local artist about making her way in this world with her paintings, and ended with the lively shrieks of giddy children whooshing down a sledding hill at South Anchorage High School.

Thanksgiving came and went. Christmas is just a blink away, then it’s the start of a whole new year.

Like most people, I’m eagerly waiting for the advent of a new year since it means we’ll be that much closer to an actual resiliation to this pandemic. Or, at least that’s what I hope. Like many have said before me, “who knows when this will end or if it will ever end.”

All industries across the world are being affected by COVID-19. The arts world is among the hardest hit industries to date. Concerts just about everywhere are still on hiatus. The rise in cases certainly hasn’t helped.

Annual festivals, holiday events, bazaars and community gatherings are being cancelled left and right. Creative people are having a tough time maintaining their bottom line with little to nowhere to go aside from Zoom meetings, which in some cases is better than nothing and in other cases not very profitable or flatout inapplicable.

My home, the Mat-Su Valley, is the exception to the norm, but it’s not like the music scene is exactly hopping. It’s interesting to note that Valley venues like Mugshots and Klondike Mikes are some of the only places in the state holding live performances.

Anchorage is all but a ghost town when it comes to catching a concert or any kind of social event.

I recently interviewed founding member and the lead vocalist of Those Guys AK, Tyrone Palmer about his band and the local music scene. His band is a staple at Mugshots and they’ve had fairly steady work. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for other acts across the state.

“I’m definitely thankful I’m able to play, yes. I don’t take it for granted; because there’s so many other ones who aren’t playing right now and they want to be, and they should be. I hope and pray there’s some kind of solution,” Palmer said during our interview.

We all had the chance to think about the things that we’re thankful for. This year, staying positive isn’t easy, but remembering to count our blessings, even if they seem fewer and farther in between than ever before, can make or break your sanity.

Sure, that may sound easier said than done, and maybe it is. But, when someone who’s been through hell and back tells you that the secret to a happy life all lies how to look at the world around you, you tend to listen.

A few weeks before I talked to Palmer about his band, I talked to Ira Edwards, a wheelchair bound man who graduated high school here in the Valley. He wasn’t always in a wheelchair, but the fateful felling of a large tree changed all of that. He said some really profound things that stuck with me.

“Having a positive outlook, it lets you live your life,” Edwards told me during our interview. “If you think you can, you will; and if you think you can’t, you won’t... You have to believe in yourself in almost every aspect involved.”

Like any job, there’s pros and cons to my line of work. I’ve often worried about my finances and wished I had more to work with. But, conversations with people I meet and those little life moments have a way of shining a warm and metaphorical ray of light on my bald head.

In the end, I love what I do. I get to try new things, like this column. Sure, it was scary at first and I worried about if my voice, what I’m about and how I write it would be received. Let’s go back to another Edwards quote that helps me push forward.

“I’m not afraid to fail. I’ve failed lots of times in my life,” Edwards said. “I do the things I love.”

Well, I’ll tell you folks right here and now, I love this job and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get to do what I love, and luckily there’s people who seem to appreciate what I’m doing.

The day after Thanksgiving, I interviewed a Valley raised painter named Lori Teich on my dad’s porch in Anchorage. It turned out we have very similar brains. We both hate doing the same thing over and over, especially conventionally dull jobs that we never could hold down. I asked her what her favorite thing about making art is. She said, “There’s just so many things that go along with it. It’s definitely made me feel like I found myself.”

I felt fireworks go off in my head. It came at a great time, smack dab in the middle of the holidays. My dad can’t help himself and always tells me that he wished I made more. I guess most parents are like that.

Awkward conversations aside, I was able to have a great time with my family during Thanksgiving. Not everyone can say that, especially years like this where families everywhere had to make one of the toughest decisions of their lives, choosing to be safe rather than sorry and keeping their distance.

After I got off the phone with Teich, I threw on some winter gear to go sledding with my youngest sister. When we got to South Anchorage High School, their go-to sledding spot, it was packed. My dad grumbled. We just waited our turn and watched for people around us. My sister squealed with excitement every time we went down the hill. My dad was eventually caught up in the good times. When we were done, he told me that my sister had a lot of fun and he was glad I was able to make it.

I’m thankful that I got to spend some quality time with my little sister and enjoy that simple yet remarkably satisfying experience most Alaskans can relate to. Like Palmer, my heart goes out to those who didn’t have the chance to do stuff like that this year. I wish them the best, and hope they can take solace in the good things in their lives that are still intact and hang on until they can reunite with their loved ones.

Not long after my interview with Teich, I looked through her Facebook page for some photos for the article. I saw her tagline, “Expect nothing and appreciate everything.”

Aside from being a great tile for my next column, I thought “wow, so simple yet so true.” Call me corny or call me a sap, but that really brought it all home for me.

I’ll end this one with one more quote from Teich. This is what she said when I asked her about the future for her and her art, “You know, if I could keep going the way I’m going today, the painting a day, getting anywhere from 100 bucks to a couple hundred bucks… I can be happy. If you’re happy, then it’s all worth it… I think the goal is just to constantly improve.”

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at

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