BreakingModern – Jesse Stralka (aka “wereman”) and Vanessa Grall (aka Messy Nessy) are barnstorming life lovers who are following their passions. And, as proof that all Millennials are not alike, they are blissfully following their own unique paths in life.
Grall is a typhoon of activity. But Stralka is more insular. His world is like a traveling circus of free living, beer brewing, mountain climbing, animal-loving grownups. For wereman, work and play rev the same. And everywhere he goes becomes scenery from the coolest movie ever seen. Check out his Instagram account (here).
Stralka is a professional stagehand who lives in New York. When not working, he surrounds himself with his best mates who all seem to live around an impromptu campfire happily hauling backpacks as big as their crazy bearded smiles. When not sitting by the campfire, Stralka posts pictures of his travels to funky places (along with beloved cats that seem liquefied as they pour over the back of a chair that could only come from an Etsy store).
Don’t confuse wereman with the hordes of mindless youth compulsively photographing hundreds of pointless images daily. The divide between common hothouse Millennial selfie-junkies and Stralka is made clear when he takes the time to enter a few lyrics from the Beatle’s “Yer Blues” above what otherwise might be a visual non-sequitur:
My mother was of the sky
My father was of the earth
But I am of the universe
And you know what it’s worth
If Jesse Stralka is our Millennial Adam, Brit Vanessa Grall is our Eve. Her blog/mini-empire known as Messy Nessy Chic originates from Paris, the city she now calls home. Her online journal entries about where she goes and all the secret spots in Europe she discovers is addictive — like Cool Ranch Doritos.
Grall is merely documenting what she loves and it has paid off to the tune of thousands of subscribers, media write-ups, link exchanges, ad sales and the chance to live on our globe. She is shopping and photographing every mile of her romantic, funky, lucky journey.
For a snippet of her oeuvre, check out “Ten Treasure Maps to Secret Paris” and “So This Is Where Johnny Depp Does His Shopping.” Both posts are pure Grall.
I had a basic Q&A with Grall, who is a supremely visual person. Go fast directly to her site. She’s a woman of few words but a million images.
BreakingModern: You remind me of Martha Stewart with a happy childhood. Could there be anything more wonderful than being young, beautiful and curious and living in Paris?
Vanessa Grall: That + being able to eat all the croissants.
BMod: Could you speak French when you moved to Paris? And do you know if you’ll stay there forever? Do you have a giant Wanderlust move in you?
VG: My father is French and I sort of paid attention in French class so the language thing wasn’t too intimidating. I can’t see myself leaving Paris but I do have a dream of moving to the California desert, somewhere like Joshua Tree, trying out life there for a while. I wouldn’t swap Paris for another city though.
BMod: When did you start Messy Nessy Chic? Were you ambitious about spreading the word early on about your amazing finds on the Net and out in the world? Was it a solo effort in the beginning or was it always a collaboration?
VG: I started MNC in 2011. I was between jobs and looking for something different to express myself with. I didn’t know much about blogging and I had to ask my brother to help get me set up. I always had an urge to share cool things I found. I’m really bad at keeping secrets.
BMod: When did you notice Messy Nessy Chic taking on steam, fire and a life of its own?
VG: I don’t think I actually believed it would ever be my career a few years down the line. But when I moved to Paris, I think the blog (and I) found a real voice/purpose and I just started writing for myself and about the things I wanted to learn rather than what I thought a blog should be writing about (that’s the kind of creative release Paris gives people). And in the end, it just so happens that a lot of people have the same curiosities as I do. That’s also when I met Alex. When some of my articles started going viral, he came on board to help me manage the overwhelming-ness of it all and slowly transform it into something more than my personal blog.
BMod: How do you cultivate your content garden? Do you subscribe to press releases, or do you just do a Google search and follow it down the rabbit hole and post about everything you love along the way?
VG: One of my favorite places to fall down the rabbit hole for example is Pinterest. You’ll often find an intriguing image with no source, but doing the detective work is half the fun. The trick is to carefully curate the people you follow, which is an ongoing process. Find one interesting pinner though, and you’re likely to find more in their follow list.
BMod: When did you start taking ads and how long have you not had to work a regular typical day job … or do you still?
VG: I started working with media agencies that sent us their ads around two/three years ago. It only became fully profitable in the last two years. We’re not like most blogs who do sponsored content and get paid — that would be a lot easier. But because we don’t want to compromise the content, we rely purely on revenue from the ads that appear on the article pages, which can be a right mess to manage independently. Alex has been trying out different ad servers/agencies/display tactics for a while. It’s always going to be a work in progress.
BMod: Do you meet a lot of women like yourself? Or do you feel like more of a stand out idol with lots of followers aiming to have such a carefree, rich, sociable life? Was there a woman in your past who inspired you?
VG: Actually I’m always a little envious of other peoples’ lives in some way or another! As for women I like to emulate from the past, the list could go on forever … but they usually were some kind of rebels.
BMod: Do you see yourself taking the path of, say, the Pioneer Woman, Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, and Oprah … getting in front of a camera with your brand, doing a lifestyle TV show, selling products that evoke the MNC lifestyle, starting a magazine or a seasonal book?
VG: I’m currently playing with the idea of a Paris book and we’re currently discussing different ways we can branch out, but I don’t think I identify with any of those women mentioned. I’m a little too laid back for all that, my elbows aren’t sharp enough and I’m actually very shy.
BMod: Is there a next move in your back pocket or a wish or project? Or do you prefer not to be so scheduled and organized about the next thing for Vanessa? Do you worry about exploiting your content and driving your fans away?
VG: Like you say, I prefer not to be scheduled (or I just can’t, hence the “messy”). If Messy Nessy Chic was ever exploited, I would have to be tied up in a basement somewhere.
BMod: What is your favorite section of your website?
VG: I probably enjoy writing My Secret Paris the most.
BMod: I feel like creating your posts is as addictive as reading them and we might need to create a recover program to unplug the masses from living vicariously through your beautiful life! What is something you haven’t done yet that you see as your personal Mount Everest?
VR: Your photography is pretty great. You also have a whimsical and precious eye not to mention skills in the post-production portion of image making. What is your camera weapon of choice when you stroll Paris? Are you strictly a smartphone shooter?
VG: Strictly a smartphone shooter. Although i think it may be time to upgrade to the iPhone 6 and perhaps have a good point-and-shoot hanging around the office just in case.
BMod: What’s your favorite TV Show?
VG: Currently watching The Affair. Loved Deadwood, True Detective and Broadwalk Empire.
BMod: Favorite Band?
VG: Anything from the ’60s.
BMod: Favorite Artist?
VG: Who doesn’t enjoy dancing to Beyoncé?
BMod: Favorite food you can eat with your hands and favorite cocktail?
VG: Bread. Bloody Mary.
BMod: What’s the coolest compliment or observation anyone ever made of you?
VG: Just when people tell me they read my blog.
Vanessa Gall is very clear on the subject and quality of her work. And the tone of her site represents her off the page as well. Wereman, in turn, was unbelievably humble and verbose when I asked him to tell me about himself (as the text below proves). Ultimately, he’s just living life the way he sees fit and was shocked that I found him and wanted to talk about his world.
Jesse Stralka: “I am very excited that you’ve reached out to me for this interview. I don’t think I’m too special of a person. But I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed seeing my life through my Instagram photos. To be clear, I don’t consider my photos an artistic accomplishment. I’m merely having fun.
“To get to know who I am, you must get to know my friends. They’re incredible individuals in their own right. I wouldn’t be half the man I am without these people. And I swear they are all way cooler than me.
“My parents are very cool people too. They’re divorced now but they’re still friendly with each other. My birth name is Shawn (which is still my real name), but I go by Jesse. My parents decided to call me Jesse because they thought it fit me better. They never got around to legally changing my name.
“I don’t remember the moment (or the age) when I found out my real name was Shawn. It wasn’t an issue until I got to high school and everything I had ever done was under the name Jesse. I guess there was a problem with all of my school files being under the wrong name. It became weird, but fun. Having two names was sort of a novelty and I felt as if I had an alias. It became an issue again when I opened my first bank account and relatives continued sending me birthday checks written out to Jesse.
“I consider my brother Dan very successful. But in my mind, despite accomplishing certain goals, I don’t feel successful at all. He is already buying an apartment in Queens and making $90K a year. I’m living at my mom’s half the time, and barely hitting $30K. I’ve been working a lot lately, and my life doesn’t seem nearly as dreamy as it once was.
“I started as a stagehand when I was 18 years old. At the time, my mom knew a guy who had been in the industry for over 20 years. She was tired of her old job and she got right into it — finding passion and love for the job. She worked as a stagehand for about five years before I joined her. I had nothing else in mind, no college on my radar, so I worked my first gig – a Police concert at the old Giants Stadium. I remember walking out on the stage after the show was over and I knew I was part of something awesome.
“I love working as a stagehand. I’m part of a nation of unique, hard working, men and woman. We’re all soulful through experience, and soulless because of the nature of the work. Most of the people I’ve met, and become friends with, all have many other skills and work in other trades. It’s hard to live just by stage work, unless you are willing to get out on the road, and travel from city to city, gig to gig or pick up a gig on a tour. There are times I think I could do it forever, and there are times I swear it makes me feel 50.
“I grew up always wanting to be a professional baseball player. But in high school my very political town and school gave me a bad taste in my mouth about how players and teams are chosen. If you didn’t have the right name or pedigree you didn’t have a chance.
“Consequently, I developed a passion for photography and cinematography. I took classes for video production and computer imagery. In 11th grade (I think), one of our projects was to design a logo for the city’s Chamber of Commerce. My logo was chosen and used for a few years.
“I went on to co-write, co-edit and co-star in a movie in another class. Eventually I bought a Nikon DSLR and that really cemented my love for photography. I no longer have a DSLR because it was stolen. I bought a hybrid Sony Nex-5N but I hardly use it. I don’t like it very much. Everything on Instagram is from my iPhone (except some older pictures which were from my Sony). I would really like to do something in my life with photography.
“I spent a lot of time at a particular coffee shop that’s no longer open. I would record the bands that played there. I used a mini digital recorder and two condenser microphones. I dreamed of starting a podcast and a live music studio.
“I eventually started working for my father again, and really taking on more gigs. That’s where I am now, working five-to-six days a week with my father — working gigs as they come. I’m looking forward to summer, warmer weather and open-air music festivals. I’m also hoping to spend a lot of time at swimming holes and waterfalls — hiking mountains and kayaking.
“I live in Ulster County, New York, in what was once a small town of Saugerties. We’re famous for Woodstock ’99 and Jimmy Fallon. I think it’s an awesome town — with the Hudson River to the east and the Catskill Mountains to the west.
“I’ve been living at my mom’s mostly. That’s where I keep my stuff. I had my own place for a while, but it became too expensive … plus the neighbor would complain about any noise after 10 p.m. Occasionally I crash at my friends’ places. But I’m not sure what I’ll eventually do. My mom is looking to sell her house and move out of town. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up in California. Haha.
“So you can say that my life has much more Ying to the Yang. I have really been embracing work lately, especially with my father. He’s been in and out of the hospital over the years and he really relies on my help.
“I have friends all around the country that I don’t get to see that often. I really just try and make the best of every day, and I love my life no matter what. I’m always learning something. You ask if I had a creed, or a motto for when things are starting to look down … here it is: No matter what happens, someone has got it worse than you. And they probably wish they had your life.
“I have many dreams and would like to do so much. For example, I would love to own my own farm or run my own music festival. I would be happy in a cabin in the mountains with no electricity. I always want to be doing something positive.
“There are still so many real mountains I need to climb, while still figuring out my metaphorical mountains, and everything in-between. I guess you can say I am living one day at a time.
“My favorite book: Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut.
“My favorite band: I love The Band, but I enjoy so many different kinds of music. This is an impossible question to answer.
“My favorite beer: I don’t like cheap beer — Coors Light especially. I’ll drink most everything, but my favorite? Sierra Nevada.
“My favorite roadside stop: I don’t know … I want to see everything from a crumbling building to an epic lookout.
“Favorite food: Pickles and olives, any time of the day.”
Featured Image Credit: Campfire. Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Vanessa Grall
Image Credit: Jesse Stralka