“I like the idea of talking about myself, but I have limited time.” John Javna said as he checked his flip phone. We were sitting on the front the porch of Valley Roasting Company in Ashland OR at 10:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. The place was packed. Life and work in this town revolves around coffee shops. Despite his comment, John spoke for more than an hour more.
To hear John describe his life, he’s bounced among a variety of curios adventures and, by serendipity, each has turned into a personal and economic success. I suppose that’s how a self-proclaimed Berkeley liberal who made dollhouses in Vermont, wrote a series of pop culture books about the 1960s, and eventually penned the five million copy bestseller, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, needs to describe himself. His persona depends upon appearing counterculture. Regardless, John must have worked hard to publish over fifty books and create a brand he sold for enough money to devote the last twenty years or so to community pursuits in Ashland. “I became a self-publisher, though I am not a business man. Businessmen think of money as a commodity I just happened to make money from what I did.”
I don’t buy that line of reasoning, but as a chronicler of the1960’s, John is savvy to the vagaries of reality and illusion. “If you want to talk about how will we live tomorrow, you have to be honest about how we live today. People create truths to suit their purpose. What people believe is not what really happened. The iconic milestones that define our world are often fabricated. We think they represent the best part of ourselves, but the reality is disillusioning.”
John met his wife in Vermont, they moved to the Bay Area during his publishing phase, and when their son was five they moved to Ashland. After he sold the Uncle John brand he spent two years helping reenvision what is now Scienceworks. “I sat in that empty space and thought, ‘What should this look like?’ If you have a vision you can go far. I had a vision for the museum and thirteen years later, here it is.”
The 2004 election drew John back to publishing and he wrote 50 Simple Things you Can Do to Fight the Right. “I didn’t want my kids to live in a world where others define how we’ll live. “ It was a terrible experience. Politics is so adversarial and John had to “live in the enemy’s camp” to write it.
John turned his focus back to Ashland. During the 2008 recession, the local Food Bank closed one day a week for lack of food. John came up with the idea of collecting donated food door-to-door. Thus began the Ashland Food Project, through which a quarter of the people in town donate food every month. “My persona credo is ‘A small thing done well is a big thing.’” The Ashland Food Project started small, but created a template for other communities to follow. There are now similar projects in 45 communities in 11 states. John provides guidance and support for new endeavors. “This is the most powerful thing I’ve ever done.
“I believe in collective consciousness. Everyone knows something; no one knows everything. We are social beings. We need to know that what we do matters. Community is not large. It’s concentric circles. The largest circle is our town. Beyond the perimeter of our city, community isn’t real. Its an idea.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“How will we survive tomorrow? That’s about water. How will we live tomorrow? That’s about community. Not community of choice; that fosters polarization We need to have enough in common to understand our connection yet include a range of diversity.”