This week, we’ve interviewed Katie Sweeney, writer, triathlete and documenter of broken umbrellas.
So Katie, tell us a little bit about yourself—what do you love to do?
I’ve made my career as a agency copywriter by day, and take on freelance projects that I think are fun, different, challenging, or interesting in my free time. Right now, I’m sans agency, so have lots of free time for those freelance projects! I love helping someone develop a voice for their product, service, or self. But my absolutely favorite projects are naming. I love thinking about the essence of something, and how to convey that in one to two words. Plus, naming gives me an excuse to get lost in the internet.
If you’re asking if I’m writing for myself, ugh. I’d really love to, and I have two characters that have been in the back of my mind for EVER, but it’s just so easy to give everything else a priority. One day I hope they’ll live on a page. One day.
What do you geek out over? Didn’t you just do some crazy triathlon?
Oh man, I geek out over lots of things; when I’m passionate about something, I’m 100%, but then they usually taper off or are replaced by something else. I’d say once a month I have a newest, greatest idea I’m excited to pitch my husband, who has his feet much more firmly planted in the ground. However, he does like my idea for a hot shave truck.
So yeah, 100% is I guess that’s how I ended up going from “I’m never doing another half marathon again” to falling in love with triathlon and doing my first half iron distance triathlon, which is 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a half marathon. I definitely geeked out over my training, but I did the whole 5 month program by myself, without any buddies. So when I got to the race and was setting up my gear in the transition, I started overhearing other people talking and realized my geek level was nada compared to some of these people. I was way out of my Type A league.
I also love geocaching, which is pretty geeky. I have no interest in camping, but have no problem mucking through Forbidden Drive and sticking my hand in some dark corner to extract a dirty film canister with a paper log I can sign my name on. Go figure. After McNabb left Philadelphia, we had a Donovan bobblehead doll Jim couldn’t bear to look at anymore, so we attached a trackable geocache tag to him and sent him off on adventures at as many NFL stadiums as he can visit. People take pictures of him at stadiums, and his arm broke somewhere, so someone glued it back on and said he needed rehab – the whole thing is hilarious. (Editor’s note: This McNabb bobblehead has traveled over 12,000 miles, wow!)
Tell me about Better Off Soaked. How did you end up creating a site about broken umbrellas?
I just love the Better Off Soaked so much that I forget it’s another one of my geeky projects. I had the idea in the early 2000s. I was walking down the street in NYC and came across a busted, abandoned umbrella. I took notice of it, but didn’t stop or take its picture. Remember, early 2000s, digital cameras were still kind of expensive, and non-photoy types weren’t in the habit of carrying a camera around at all times.
But there was something interesting about that busted umbrella. I remember it wasn’t raining because I wasn’t carrying an umbrella, so I started thinking about how it got there, how long it had been there. Someone had just gotten so fed up with this object that’s designed for exactly one purpose that they couldn’t take it anymore, not one second longer to even get to a trash can, and they just threw it down right there. I loved this story. I pictured the whole scene in my head.
I was just starting out in my advertising career back then and was working on a portfolio, so I thought about how this umbrella could be an ad for something. I started carrying around a crappy little 35mm … and seeing more umbrellas. I ended up making the ads, but sat on this collection of umbrella carnage photos I was amassing, not sure what to do with them.
I’d already started my personal blog, dipping my toe in the overshare, but I thought this project was WAY too nerdy to put out there. I don’t even remember when I first did, but I know WHY I did. Plus, Twitter will make you feel better about ANYTHING you think you’re alone in. Once I started getting blog readers and commenters from different places on my regular blog, I realized that maybe there would be people around the world who would see umbrellas and send over photos. I pictured this big world map of broken umbrellas all over the world.
And it really started happening! Twitter really helped the Better Off Soaked take off, and I remember the first time someone I didn’t know in real life sent over a broken umbrella pic. From there, I even started connecting with people who were also interested in broken umbrellas (I KNOW, RIGHT?); We did some caption contests for readers, and an author donated a signed copy of his book that featured a broken umbrella. Then I connected with Recycling Zychal who’s right here in Philly, upcycling broken umbrellas into awesome dog coats. I mean, how awesome is that?
Better Off Soaked is my quirky favorite child. I haven’t given as much dedication to it as I’d like… migrating it to its own site, keeping up with the haikus making it more interactive and fun, but I love it, and I love its audience and cast of contributors around the world, which I call umbrellarazzi. See, with the naming? haha.
I would LOVE to make it into a quirky coffee table book type with the haikus; and of course, I still see it as an ad campaign. But I’m not saying for what.
Thanks for chatting with us Katie! To check out some of Katie’s work, visit her site (www.katiesweeney.com) or follow her on Twitter (@k8iedid). Be sure to also check out Better Off Soaked @BellaBrella! Submit your pictures of broken umbrellas.