You know the most formative years of your life, where you really came into yourself, felt inspired, and discovered who and what you loved? For me, it was around 1998 or 1999, and I was full-blown obsessed with fashion, interior design, and creative projects. I had three idols. The first two were Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen – Billboard Dad and Passport to Paris were my everything. I am proud to admit I had a wardrobe and hairstyle that matched MK & A's to a T. My third idol was Tracy Porter. She was an interior designer and entrepreneur with a magical store in Princeton, Wisconsin and a growing empire across the world – she captured the zeitgeist of the time. My mom discovered her and loved her first – she visited her store and bought two of her coffee table books. When my mom glued feathers onto the chandelier in our kitchen, inspired by Tracy's whimsical aesthetic, my life changed forever. I began spending hours on end flipping through Tracy Porter's books – everything about her life, her designs, and her point of view seemed otherworldy. I started painting swirls and little flowers on things in my room, glued feathers and rhinestones on everything in sight, and daydreamed endlessly of parties I would throw someday, how I would decorate, and the treats I would prepare. When my mom took me on a journey to Princeton, and we visited Tracy's store, I was in heaven. I distinctly remember the day I learned Tracy had closed her shop during the Recession – I cried; a death had occurred.
Fast forward almost 20 years. I now own a home that is heavily inspired by Tracy Porter. Leopard print and whimsical touches are everywhere. I'm never afraid to whip out my glitter kit and often affix birds to the top of presents I wrap. I still have the treasures I bought at Tracy's Princeton store all those years ago – they're scattered about the house in the most special of spots. I thought nothing of tagging Tracy in a recent photo on Instagram that featured a little ornament from her store. To me, Tracy has always been a sort of mythical creature, always representing such an important and precious time in my life, so when I received a comment from her on my Instagram post, I was completely shocked. In my head, Tracy remained frozen in time, forever stuck in my memories of 1999.
Breaking news: Tracy hasn't stayed in 1999. She's a real, living, breathing person who's evolved and grown. Her style is more bohemian, she lives in California, she has a new design company called Poetic Wanderlust, and she writes novels under the pseudonym A. Wilding Wells. She's a fearless free spirit who has only grown cooler and more inspirational with time. I've been watching a lot of videos and ordering a lot of her books to catch up on lost time, and I am proud to announce that she still is one of my biggest idols.
Because she is the absolute coolest, Tracy took the time to chat with me in the middle of her move from Nicaragua to California. Check out my Q&A with the one and only Tracy Porter to learn more about her:
My Midwest Is Showing: What is your hometown, and where do you live now? How long have you lived there?
Tracy Porter: I grew up in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. And have since moved many times – Paris, France, Chicago, back to Wisconsin, then California six years ago. Then to Nicaragua. Now back to California. So to me, the Santa Ynez valley is my home. Let's just say we have wanderlust!
MMWIS: You hold many titles – designer, author, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Tell me a little bit about your career path.
TP: I started my first company when I was nineteen. Or was it twenty? Something around there. I knew I'd never work for anyone again. Every company we've started has been about making beautiful, soulful things and inspiring others to be true to themselves. My husband John and I moved from Chicago to Wisconsin just after getting married in 1991. We bought a small, ramshackle farm and fixed it up – at the same time, we started a hand-painted furniture company which helped put us on the map. Things took off from there, we expanded a lot, hired many artists and woodworkers – it was a really wild time in our lives, fun though! We gave birth to twin boys in 2000, which was another incredible change in our lives. Kids bring the best perspective! Things were busy...nutso busy. We were licensing our work, designing everything under the sun we could dream up, from dinnerware, to rugs and everything in-between. Then along the way we gave birth to two more boys, and we started a mail order catalog, began importing our own apparel and shoes and jewelry, etc. And then the market crashed, and pouf! Everything changed! And that's okay too, because it made us really examine how we wanted to spend our days. And that's when we realized managing people wasn't one of them. So we started all over again, still designing, just in a fresh way with a new brand – Poetic Wanderlust – and a more-clear-than-ever-vision. We also moved to California which was an incredible journey for our family. Then a few years ago, I decided I wanted to write a novel, something romantic and sexy with comedic twists and an edge of darkness. Now I've published six novels in about two years. Writing is another creative outlet for me. I love how it pushes my thought process, I love creating stories, love learning a whole new thing. My pseudonym is A. Wilding Wells.
MMWIS: What does a normal day and/or week look like for you?
TP: I'm up by 6 making tea then getting down to business straightaway. I love all aspects of what I do, so it isn't often I feel like I'm "working." I design a portion of each day – new artwork, etc. Then I write at least 8 hours everyday. Sometimes I'll write for 15 hours – I can really get lost in it. I can work from anywhere in the world since I use a laptop, an iPad, and my phone for the most part as my tools. I love the flexibility of not being tied to a place or a desk. It's something we talk with our boys about a lot. Designing the way you spend your time is important.
MMWIS: How would you describe your style?
TP: Eclectic, soulful, easy going. Layered. Spirited. Bohemian is something I come by honestly – I'm not into fussy or perfect in anyway. I don't do tedious.
MMWIS: Where do you find inspiration for your various endeavors?
TP: Everywhere. Inspiration is a nonstop-keep-your-eyes-peeled-gig! It's not something I turn off and on. It's always going. I am constantly plotting stories or designing things in my mind. I think it's why I work as much as I do, because my brain is always on it, and ready for the next. It's fun for me so I indulge big-time.
MMWIS: What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far?
TP: Realizing that failure is just another way to get better and grow and evolve. Another way to design your days and life and how you spend your time best, what makes you feel the most fulfilled.
MMWIS: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs and artists?
TP: Persevere. Take leaps everyday. Work no matter what you're going through, no matter how hard it is. Be frugal. Create every single day. Be willing to evolve. Be nice to people. Never say never. Get good at saying no. Don't be afraid to ask. Try new things all the time.
MMWIS: Favorite thing about where you live now?
TP: I live in Nicaragua now, and have for the past 6 months, but our kids find that there isn't enough of a teen scene, so we're moving back to the Santa Ynez valley. So I'll make this two-fold. I love many things about living in Nica. It's raw, and nature on crack, and super inexpensive, and eye opening and the people are very welcoming. It's been a very cool place to live. Now...about the Santa Ynez valley in California where we are moving back to...it's a really insanely wonderful place. Great, great people. More than anywhere we've ever lived we have found our people there. It's wine and cowboy country so horses are a big thing, and I love that since I grew up on a horse farm. The weather is pretty much perfect – cold nights, warm days. It too is nature on crack, truly one of the most beautiful places on the earth...and I've traveled most of the world so I can say this with my heart...it's exquisite. Plus I love that we can be on the beach in a half hour or on the top of a mountain in the same time. It's the most magical place!
MMWIS: What do you miss most about the Midwest?
TP: I miss my family and the thunderstorms in summer. God, those are good! The best ever! Also, a really hardcore blizzard (but then I'd want it all gone because I hate that grey yuck that follows). I also miss the kick-ass change of color in the fall. You don't get that intensity in California.
MMWIS: What don't you miss?
TP: The bugs. I hate bugs. Winter for the most part, I'm happy without it, and I can get to it once a year for snowboarding/skiing within 2 hours of where we live in California. I don't miss the highways plastered in billboards, and I don't miss nonstop grey skies for moths on end. I still comment on the sun in California – I'm surprised that it's out pretty much everyday.
MMWIS: What are you currently reading? Watching? Listening to?
TP: I mostly read, and I read everything from historical fiction, to romance, autobiography, business, self-help, education. And whatever else catches my attention. If it looks good, I'll read it regardless of the genre. I read about 4 books a week – I'm obsessive about my Kindle. I shop for books on Amazon every single morning and I don't go anywhere without my Kindle – there is always a 2-5 minute wait somewhere that I can sneak in another chapter. That's why I think it's so odd when people say they don't have time to read. I don't get it, reading is one of my favorite things to do.
MMWIS: How does your Midwest show through your personality and/or what you do?
TP: I have a solid accent for sure, though most people ask if I'm Canadian or from somewhere in Europe, which is always funny. They get excited when I say Wisconsin, then they tend to tell me about some aunt or cousin they have that lives there. I also think I really appreciate nature, and I think that's a very Wisconsin thing. I'm not saying others don't appreciate it, but I think when you're socked in the house from crappy weather a large chunk of the year, which is how I felt in Wisconsin, then you get outside...and you get giddy. Like bonkers giddy. I'm constantly pointing stuff out to our boys....look at the mountains, look at the light on them. Look at the roses, there are roses blooming in December! This still amazes me. So yeah, my Midwest shows pretty often...and I like it!