The LGBT haven of Asbury Park is known to have launched creative types from various mediums, but having one of their residents launch a community of knitters is truly a first. In a short period of time though, author/podcast host and founder of Knit in the Pit Jon Giswold has founded a community that has gone far beyond simply knitting, and is finding new and inventive ways to give back to the community at large. I sat down to chat with Jon and we went deep on his path to Asbury Park (and to spirituality), his relationship and unique partnership with a beloved Real Housewife, and how the simple art of knitting has become the thread that holds together a newfound community.
Michael Cook: To kick it off, Knit In The Pit; it is truly a remarkable and amazing group and community you have built in Asbury Park and beyond; tell me about it.
Jon Giswold: Knit in the Pit started just over a year ago. I have been a knitter since the age of 10 and have kept my craft at home. It always made me self conscious to knit in public. Over the past couple of years however, men have been coming out of hiding it seems or at least more visible to media outlets than before. Many of us found community in a local yarn shop or groups. I found that in the dead of winter, I was feeling isolated and truth be told a little lonely. I reached out the owner of The Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, David Bowd to see if it would be okay to sit in the sunken living room at the hotel, where Tea Dance entertained men during the summer months, but was also a little quiet during January through April. David was more than generous and invited us in. It started with 4 gay men, friends of mine and 1 woman who saw on Instagram an open invite to join me for a knit together. Now, just over a year later we have surged into a CommuKNITTY with sometimes 100+ showing up at the Hotel for our monthly knit together. The IG page has over 750 followers and our closed FB page has almost 300 members. We knit together and knit for social causes such as HATNOTHATE (HATNOTHATE.org) and Soap Sacks as well as now going into the Boys & Girls Club of Asbury Park to teach kids to knit. It has become an event and a force for good – organically.
MC: Take me back; when did you make it to Asbury Park and what brought you here?
JG: I was a Montauk man, together with my ex-husband for 20+ years. When we split, I took about 10 years off from being a beach dweller. Memorial Day 2017 I went to Asbury Park on a whim to spend the holiday at the beach and WHAM! I was so struck by the mosaic of the Asbury Park Boardwalk and the energy this resort town has that I was smitten. The music, the acceptance and the invitation this resort town offered me was contagious and I wanted in. Now 3 years.. I am in up to my knitting needles!
MC: When did knitting become a passion and what made you want to take it to the next level?
JG: I was 10 years old when my Mom taught the entire family to crochet and knit. I come from a rural dairy farming town in northwestern Wisconsin and it was during a snow break.. we were snowed in for a few days, Mom stated that we would learn something useful. So that is where is all started.
MC: Many saw you last season on The Real Housewives of New York City with Dorinda Medley, a long time friend. Tell me about how your friendship bloomed.
JG: Dorinda and I were both aerobic teachers in the late 80’s. She worked at the Y and I worked in for Molly Fox Studios. In those days it wasn’t as easy as now to find aerobics classes and we were both part of the movement that brought dance exercise into what we know today. Funny – we both shared the same DJ that would mix music for instructors as we found out during the taping of Real Housewives of New York. Dorinda came to the club I teach at in midtown with her good friend Mona – who was a regular in my class, and that when we rekindled a new bond. After my class, Dorinda came up to me and said “I have not had that much fun exercising in a long time. I’d love to bring that happy feeling to people again. That’s what’s missing today. Everyone is sooooo serious. Would you join me to dance again like this on my show?” We filmed three times for the episode I was on, putting together a class that would be filmed at Alvin Ailey on 54th. We rehearsed up in the Berkshires and over that weekend we really let down our guard and became good friends. We are very much alike and also completely different and it works. I adore her and now we have DOROBICS and it has caught on like fire. Live Events and a new brand.
MC: What do you think it is about 80’s aerobics and “Dorobics” that you think captivated people so much? It’s still very popular!
JG: @Dorobics (#dorobics) is simply fun. It is meant for everyone. All shapes and sizes. All ages and walks of life. The original idea will always stand – just have fun moving. The results will happen naturally. If you move, you will be moved. Really that is it. Have a good time with each other. Socialize as you exercise. Something will happen and remember to Make It Nice!
MC: Your podcast Moments That Matter is eye opening and emotionally uplifting. Were you always so spiritual? What gave you the idea to start a podcast?
JG: I went through the motions of spirituality. I was raised Methodist. I don’t really remember anything special about it as a kid outside of having to go to church. I have been sober now for a long time and even in my 12 step program, I lacked the Higher Power connection as I have it today. I was introduced to the Unity movement – a community formed by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore and I started my spiritual life. I sat in a chair every Sunday and listened for a year. As a leader and instructor – and author of my two books BASIC TRAINING and BEYOND BASIC TRAINING – I wasn’t listening to my divine self. I have a very intimate connection these days and that is how my podcast was birthed. I wanted to open up to start a conversation about the moments that have defined me, and in that possibly allow people to examine their own Moments. Looking at them, deconstructing the moments with new eyes and getting to the nuggets of truth is my interest. Seeing where I came from … philosophically speaking. Writing a blog or upholding a schedule of deadlines crushes me – so the podcast allows me to speak as honestly as I can – candidly and non-soap box like and then I upload and let it go. I also wanted to speak for myself and not regurgitate there’s thoughts and beliefs. An author friend of mine once said… “I’d rather love than be right” and that released me from seeking a consensus of approval. I can only be right for myself. I don’t look at analytics or ratings and reviews … that would crush me. I am glad you enjoy it.
MC: Our community is facing such trying times politically and otherwise; what do you think our community can do to rise up?
JG: Bond together. When we fragment our community, we are weakened. Going back to 1980’s at the height of the health crisis, the community bonded together to fight for our lives and for the lives of our brothers and sister. Crisis always brings those threatened together. Much like America right after the attack on 9/11. We were never better – so that is my thought on today’s challenge. We have to come together with a strong untied voice in order to resist those who have a Unified motive – that being stripping us from the right to BE. It will take us all to uphold what is RIGHT. We all have the RIGHT to BE.
MC: Challenges the younger generation faces; what do you see as some of the biggest and what can they do to overcome then?
JG: Bullying & being bullied will effect the rest of your life unless you stand up to the bully who has taken away your power. I mentored a young man, who was at risk from bullying and the lack of acceptance from family. He has bloomed into a fine man now in college so I have seen the power of paying attention when our youth are screaming silently for help. If you can empower one kid – you can help change the conversation. Being silenced only allows shame to govern who you are suppose to be. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel less than you divinely are.
MC: What would the Jon of today tell the Jon the was just starting out in the city as a young gay man ready to take on the world?
JG: As much as you want to run away from the people and place you came from, you will take everything with you on this wild ride. The code that you learned from that little town will serve you always and that one day… you will be ME. A fully formed Gay Man with a big heart, a listener and a good citizen of this world.
All Photos Courtesy of Jon Giswold
For everything Jon Giswold, check him out here