The Camp 10 – Joseph M. Jarvis

The days are becoming shorter, and pumpkin-spice everything is appearing in stores. Must be autumn! This month, I brought things out to Lawrence to catch up with Joseph M. Jarvis, an attorney working with local small businesses, freelancers, and the self-employed. Jarvis worked for a large Kansas City law firm, but he left that behind to work on a smaller, localized level. Although his career keeps him busy, he takes time out to work on revitalizing a house in East Lawrence with his partner of seven years.
1. Before establishing your own law firm in Lawrence, you worked at a large Kansas City law firm. Why the change?
I like Kansas City (I grew up in Lenexa), but honestly I have a huge soft spot in my heart for Lawrence. It’s a progressive, funky town that’s a great fit for creatives, the LGBT community, and liberals. To me, it’s the right mix of small town and cosmopolitan. I feel at home here. (Well, as at home as an LGBT person can feel in Kansas or Missouri.)
2. What kind of law do you practice?
I work primarily with small businesses, freelancers, and self-employed people. I do things like business setup, contract drafting, trademarks, and purchase and sale of businesses. My favorite clients are new businesses. The dreaming and energy of people starting something new is contagious.
3. What have you learned about owning and operating your business?
Theory and practice are very different. I try to eat my own cooking. If I’m advising clients to do something, whether that be use a certain software tool, approach contracts a certain way, or use certain marketing tactics, I usually try to do so in my own business. I want to recommend approaches that have worked for me personally. Otherwise it’s just talk.
4. I understand you’re in a long-term relationship?
Yes, I was fortunate to meet a great guy while in grad school. We just celebrated seven years together. He’s a chemist, which besides being much smarter than me, makes for a good cook and someone who always knows how to clean up a mess the right way.
5. Any secrets to a happy relationship?
We’re far from perfect. But I like to think we’re honest about our own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’d describe us as nerdy gays; we love a good nature show or a day trip to a museum or wacky tourist site. Finding those common areas and then trying new things within those spaces has been a great way to bond.
6. You and your partner recently bought an old house that you’re renovating. How has that project been going?
Good, knock on wood. We bought an abandoned foreclosure from a giant faceless bank. The sale happened entirely via e-mail with staff the bank outsourced to India. The past owner had abandoned the house, and it sat vacant for several winters. In the four months we’ve lived in the house, our block has lost three residents (a drug overdose, an incarceration for molesting children, and a suicide related to the molestation case), so we definitely feel like gentrifiers. We’ve noticed neighbors doing more yard work since we moved in, so our presence is having a small impact.
7. What has been most challenging about home renovation?
There’s boring stuff like getting the work done and money. But there’s also the effect on our relationship. We don’t have kids, but the house feels like one. If we bicker, it’s often house-related. Our child-free friends roll their eyes when we launch into another house story. I do know better than to post photos to Facebook every five minutes of the darndest, cutest thing the house just did.
8. Any advice for our readers on how to handle home renovation with a partner/spouse?
Gays are mainstreaming: staying in red states, living ordinary suburban lives, having kids. I think it’s healthy for gay couples to not completely forget our outsider roots. My partner and I decided to buy where we did in part because our neighborhood has more minority and working-class residents. John Waters recently gave a commencement speech criticizing minority separatism as no longer cool. Maybe that’s where things are on the coasts, but I don’t feel like Kansas is post-gay yet. I’m hopeful we’ll be a stronger couple in this project by being reminded that we’re not living in a brand-new beige suburban house.
9. What else do you enjoy doing when you’re not stripping off old wallpaper or ripping up carpeting?
I’m on a vegetable-gardening kick. We’d be better off if everyone
grew more food and less grass in their yards. But my interest in vegetables may be influenced by PBS’ Victory Garden having a former male stripper [Jamie Durie> as a host.
10. OK, I always like to have a little fun with the final question, and since I have asked a bit about this home renovation, if you could be any tool, what would you be and why?
Well, we just had a crew cut down a tree in our yard. I was pretty impressed by the stump grinder they had. And there’s plenty of innuendo there.”

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