FOUND Magazine has by now achieved cult status. Publishing shopping lists, mash notes, Polaroids, and other scraps of human interaction, it celebrates all things abandoned and secret. The notion that nothing need ever be lost or meaningless, and that we are all connected, no matter how tenuously or humbly, is the engine of the whole enterprise. For the past three years, filmmaker David Meiklejohn has been working with FOUND's co-creator Davy Rothbart on a "documentary for the terminally romantic" called My Heart is an Idiot (trailer below.) The film takes place on the road — the FOUND crew tours incessantly, doing events all over the country — and chronicles Davy's attempts to sort out his complicated love life.
Says Meiklejohn: "For those of you who are familiar with Ross McElwee's film Sherman's March, imagine an updated version of that with more alcohol and swearing, and you'll have a sense of the movie." I talked to Davy about the film, FOUND, PostSecret, touring, love, suicide, and secrets.
You’ve been on the road for about how long now? We’re driving through Tennessee. It’s beautiful. Smoky mountains. Been on the road for two and half months, and collecting everywhere we go. Every night is unpredictable.
Last night in Charleston, West Virginia we met this sword swallower. So we took him on tour with us. He’s in the van right now. So you’re collecting people as well as objects? Right, traveling through the country telling stories and hearing stories, too.
What kind of vehicle are you driving?
We’d been driving this big red van, but in New Mexico it died and we had to hitchhike for three hours. Now we’re driving a wretched minivan, which feels small, given the sword swallower. Do you think you’re frustrated in love because you’re forever on the road, or do you think you’re forever on the road because you’re frustrated in love? A long distance relationship can be tough. It feels like you’re making a choice to go on the road, so you’re choosing the road over the relationship. Which is difficult for anyone you’re involved with.
The other thing is that you’re less able to meet people at home, but I’ve met people who live in other places…I’ve met amazing women on the road, but…you’re always starting at a deficit. It’s a tough course.
Do you have groupies? I wish. But I don’t know if groupies is the right word. My brother Peter — all the girls fall in love with him. I’m like “Hey remember me, I’m the funny guy?” But no. What is love, do you think? I fall in love with girls all the time. A lot of times there’s love for someone you’ve never spoken to, someone you just see. It’s confusing to me. The sword swallower was telling me about this girl sword swallower, and I was thinking that would be cool, to get her and bring her on the road with us. How did you connect with David Meiklejohn and start to make this film with him? I immediately recognized what an awesome filmmaker he is, and I thought it’d be fun to document our travels. We didn’t realize at first that it would focus on love. In 2004 he came along for like a week. Then in ‘05 and ‘06 he was on the road with us for like three months at a time. We did realize early on that the issue at hand was love and relationships. We were talking to family, friends, people we met on the side of the road, and trying to weave our own struggles with the stories of people we met. Collecting stories. Found stuff is a backdrop that way. So it’s about another kind of “finding," really. You’re scavenging all these experiences and advice and information about how other people navigate their love lives. Yeah. Modes of communication can be different, but experiences are so universal.
You’ve been doing tour dates lately with the PostSecret folks. This is such a natural, organic, awesome match: Where Found picks up what amounts to the detritus of life on earth — the forgotten, discarded, heartbreaking, hilarious relics of lives lived all around us — PostSecret is something of a safe haven for our most brutally honest immediate, intangible realities, realities that, it seems, “real” life can’t often support. How do you see the link between you guys, and how did you hook up? Frank Warren’s a friend of mine. He came to some early FOUND shows. He’s overgenerous, but he claims I was his inspiration for starting PostSecret. Some elements might have come from FOUND, but I think he’s doing something really distinct.
My Heart is an Idiot actually got its name from PostSecret — we were at Frank’s house and the postal lady came and brought the day’s postcards (two bricks!), and we start looking through them, and my friend Andy pulls this one from the pile and he goes: “This is name of your movie.” I see Found and PostSecret as two sides of the same coin: collecting and preserving the things we’re not individually often brave (or visionary!) enough to own or hang on to. And there’s something incredibly powerful about the effect of both on people: It makes the world feel smaller, makes loss seem like no biggie, and makes connection seem not only possible but inevitable. That’s some heavy stuff. What are some of the most intense ways FOUND has affected you over the years? No matter what you’re doing, you’re always stuck in your own head, sort of, and I feel like looking for FOUND stuff and being aware of what’s on the street around me makes me aware of the people around me, and the life around me. It's taken me out of my head and into the world a little more. I’m constantly immersed in people’s stories through their lost artifacts. So now I'm less shy about engaging with people, talking to strangers, being part of the world in real life. Some of your recent dates benefit HopeLine, a suicide-prevention organization. What’s the connection to Hopeline and why do you think Found stuff has this unique kind of hope/catharsis to it? We thought we had an opportunity to make some money for some good causes. Frank’s been involved in Hopeline for a number of years, and it’s such a great organization. And with grassroots organizations a little money goes a long way. Tonight in Nashville we’re doing a benefit for prison book program. Tomorrow in Durham it’ll be for The Sun, one of my favorite magazines. It’s about recovery and spirituality.
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Here's the trailer for My Heart Is An Idiot (note the Ira Glass and Zooey Deschanel cameos). Find out more on the movie's MySpace page.