I am running through the urban streets of San Francisco, my home for the moment, a hundred thoughts pillowing in and out of my brain spaces, rolling and tumbling around with each other. I haven’t felt this free in a while, and I know that the benefits of a break are reaching into my overworked engines and adding pockets of energy to the spaces that were starting to feel a little bit used up. I suppose we all need an oil change.
The city is strange, a layering of pipes and concrete and slabs on top of each other into an artificial environs, a place we all agree to inhabit, a space within which we all work, a space that we take for granted and forget to see after a while.
I wonder, always, often, why I got this life, how I got picked, arbitrarily, randomly, to be an assemblage of molecules to inhabit this space, and why I wasn’t born in Rwanda, or Chile, or Saudi Arabia, or as another gender, another set of brains. I’m not sure what makes me, ME, but I am here now, and I’m luckier than anything to be able to live here, now, right here. I want to reach out with wonder, stretch my arms, touch the city, feel the space, feel the people, feel the humans, live this life, do as much as I can with what I have, and build as many things as I can in the few thousand sleeps I get while I’m on this planet.
But, I’m running. I’m running, and I’m moving, and things pass by my face about as quickly as the thoughts come and go. I want to capture them, catalogue them, spin them around, push words in and out of space to tell the stories in my mind, the ideas I have, the feelings that circle and spin in between all of the people I get to see and touch and meet and play with.
I’ve just come back from burning man, from a week in the desert, from an experience I’ll do my best to capture but will never really explain, and the first thing I can do is tell you what it’s like to be here, right now, in this space.
The urban world is a jungle, my jungle, my playground, and the rickety structures that append new buildings in construction environments beg me to leap up, grab, twirl on them and pull. I can hang from the bars of the scaffolding and flip into handstands on a dime; the irony is that only a few hours ago, I emerged from the nail salon with freshly painted fingers and stared at my hands for a good long time, wondering what had become of the Playa dust, and what was to become of my hands.
In a surge of familiarity, I found myself rolling on the ground, stretching, bending, touching the world and the earth, figuring out the lay of the land through inversions and pulls and pushes; I needed to feel the world I was living in again. The city is a hard place; a place full of rebar and concrete and cement and closed containers and bulges that demarcate an infusion or release of power and fluid: water, gas, electricity, sewage, garbage, air. So much of our lives depend upon the invisible infrastructures that lie hidden beneath the perfect square saw joints of the sidewalk slabs, unbeknownst to each footstep on the surface above.
Perhaps our bodies play a dance against the city walls, a series of rhythm steps that feel the land beneath and tred-tred-tred-tred in a predictable rhythm; the only thump change the steps down and up off of the sidewalk and ascending a staircase into a building. A slow electronic hum and groan moves us up an escalator, through an elevator; a soft padding of shoes against a dull carpet brings us into an office full of the same electronic buzzing of screens and sounds and people, murmuring.
What are the sounds and rhythms of your physicality? How do you move through the city? What hurts, what feels, what aches, in your body? What needs to let loose?
And I think of the moving office space, and the sore pads on my inner thighs from excessive bike riding, and I skip and hop a couple of quick steps and I reach for the top of another walk sign, slapping the man’s red hand against mine and landing on both feet two feet into the intersection. A tall, slender, slightly crooked black man with shiny skin lifts his baseball cap up and brings his eyes into mine; his creases crinkle and he breaks into a shiny white-toothed smile. I stop, giggling, crouched in a recovery position and my hand automatically flings upwards into a bright wave and smile back. “Nice hops,” he chuckles, and I lift my right knee, leaning forward, taking off. “Thanks!” I grin, running away, leaping again.
The city is a game, if you play it, if you want it, if you feel like it. I’ll wander off the white lines in the road and skip-wiggle my feet across the curbed edges, playing piano along the sewer lines with the toes of my sneakers. Each intersection, each crosswalk, every piece of scaffolding is a place to wonder, to wander, and to play.
Every year around this time, charity: water launches their epic “September” campaign (I was working there for three of them). It’s a season where a ton of extra effort is put forth by their team to travel, film, document and market a story that will inspire the masses to give up their…
I love the topic of this question, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad question. Let’s look at the heart of why we ask it, and also, where it comes from. First, we ask the question because we want some way to find out - to hear - the stories of other people. We want to connect with other people and find common shared experiences that tell us whether or not we can understand them, become friends with them, get along with them, etc.
Second, the reason that we predominantly ask the question “What do you do?” — comes from a century of focusing solely on work and security as our livelihood. For the last several decades (or more specifically, 1930 - 1960) it was very important that you find a stable job, and you keep it. Couple that with a burgeoning corporate structure and a society that was embracing larger and larger businesses (and benefits, and corporate institutions), and the easiest and quickest way to figure out who someone was — was by asking what they did for a living.
We realize — and most people know — that asking “what do you do?” as the only question to probe into someone’s fascinating, interesting, complex set of stories is very superficial. There’s a lot more. And I think each of us can ASK more interesting questions and learn, once again, how to tell our stories to each other in a way that lets us connect. Because we’re human, and we’re curious, and we want to know what the other humans around us are, well, doing.
For the people who think it’s a terrible question to ask:
First: I think we (you) owe it to ourselves to come up with several more interesting responses, too, and not just flippantly reply. When someone asks, what do you do? You can respond with a thoughtful answer that dodges the underlying presumption of the question. For example, I could answer: I’m a sister, I’m an aunt. I’m a swimmer. I’m a writer. I’m a designer. I go running. I’m build projects. The way you tell your story can bring into it a lot of layers without saying; “I work for this and this company or client …”
Sometimes, for clarity, I follow up with — “Oh, so you want to know who PAYS me? Well, that’s a different question.” And if we tease it out a bit more, the question, “what do you do, (for a living)” is really asking you — “what are you valued for in this society?” And because money is one way of measuring things, that’s one way to account for — “who finds you useful, and would I find you useful or helpful to me, too?
Lastly, I’m starting to write a book about different questions we can ask in lieu of “what do you do” and I would love to know what questions you like asking people (or getting asked) instead. What’s the best one you’ve gotten so far?
"What do you do?" or 100 other questions you might think about asking … instead.
I ‘am’ a philosopher, a thinker, an explorer, an adventurer, a writer. I don’t need any credentials to have a desire to learn, and I don’t need a degree to tell me what I can and can’t do. I have a hard time anointing myself as an “expert” in doing or thinking, because it’s always an in-between state, never an “arrived” state. All I know is that I enjoy doing, sharing, learning, and being around other people as curious as me.
Sometimes I find the biggest limitations are not the structures, but just our own thoughts about what we think is and isn’t possible; and an unwillingness to be wrong, to feel dumb, to be new, to experience strange. Once we pare back the fear of our egos and the desire to present ourselves as Somebody, we can have a chance to maybe just, simply, be some body.
On the streets of San Francisco, cars rushed up and down. The lights changed every 24 seconds, telling people to move back and forth, to gear up to the wind and press the gas pedals to carry their large steel vehicles up and down streets. Bicyclists wove in and out of the stop-and-go cars, dangerously and perilously balancing on their forward trajectories, trusting in the physics of a two-wheeled body and the visibility of their beings to dumb car owners.
The sun warmed up the thick cement slab outside of the liquor store. A homeless man lifted his head up off of his sleeping bag and asked me with his face and body for money. I said no, but I gave him a smile, wondering if that was sufficient to help him in any way. I walked, slowly, invisibly, down the strange street. I stopped at the corner. Between the changing lights, I looked down at my red shoes. My feet painted the slope of the ground and pointed slightly inwards. I ticked my right foot in and out in the rhythm of the music pulsating in my ears, feeling the need for my body to dance, to talk into the sky, to not be completely still. I watched a couple hold hands, talking softly, wandering across the street. A black-clad bouncer stood outside of the music venue across the street from me, waiting for people to aggregate in small crowds, to line up, to go in. I knew from experience that inside, the place was dark, a mix of black and red, a jangle of noises rushing in your face, a place to escape for a while and sink into music. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, part of me wanted to go in. The wind paused for a second, letting the sun bake on my skin, keeping me outside instead. Every few minutes a gust of air, the early onset of fog, rolled down the western hills into the street, grabbing San Francisco’s sunshine and hiding it. The sun dipped a little bit behind the arching Monterey Cypress trees, their slanted, jarring branches breaking and withstanding the wind.
I waited, watching the flows of people behind a set of tinted almost-hipster sunglasses framing my face, hipster more in that I found them broken on the street, picked them up, washed them, and super-glued the frames together than because of their style (or lack thereof). I once bought a pair of sunglasses for a hundred dollars and commenced feeling stupid about it for the next month. I hate buying things. Things. They just keep accumulating, each item stacked in piles around my sense of self, choking, drowning my freedom in an effort to contain me. I want to get rid of things.
My black yoga pants warmed in the sun, like a hug, coating my thighs and legs in invisible support. I dreamed of the future freedom that wine would bring, a lazy love of alcohol, replacing the stress of my body with a magic whisper. I sat still, watching the people, curious. The five-o-clock hour brought out the couples, the movers, the cyclists, the grocers. We all met, in this public realm, the street, to do the things that were on our tasks lists, to live the life being of humanity, to be in public, separately, but together.
Across the street, two old men shuffled very slowly in the shade, clutching each other. The shorter man had a harder time, and grabbed the arm of the taller, thinner gentleman. Together, they made their way down the block deliberately, peacefully, gracefully. I caught their motions and tried not to stare, wondering, thinking.
What were they, when they were my age? Was the shorter one the boy of the party, the jokester, the smart-alec, the funny guy? Was he a man who won the ladies over, was he whip-smart, was he full of ideas and smarts? Was the taller one the one who would offer a bemused smile, a knowing nod, a wink? Perhaps he was a scientist, a meticulous man of many thoughts, a silent one, brooding, who would parse out knowledge when necessary, and abstain from conversation when he thought it was too idiotic for his taste.
Perhaps the two were college buddies, folks who had met a long time ago across kegs and noise and fraternities, bonding through small actions over time, embarking on adventures, sealing the fate, outlasting their peers, becoming a unit, becoming the best of friends not by urgency, not by necessity, not out of a crash of worlds, but simply because they spent enough time together that to not be around each other defied the definition of the world they understood.
Perhaps, alternatively, they didn’t know each other until they met in old age, wisdom interchanging across endless chess matches, park benches warmed by elderly bottoms engaged in an attempt to outwit or outlast each other. Perhaps they had a language, a quirk, a way of talking to each other about the beautiful females, the yoga-clad derrieres of the striking youth, a wink and a nod and a barely discernable agreement of the acknowledgement of the tremendous beauty flowing up and down the streets in a coffee-chase.
The world, it turns; the men, our forefathers, us, we disappear, too. We make friends, we make ideas, some of us make a bit more, but then we, too pass, our ideas, our futures, our beings just an ephemeral touch on the skin of the earth.
“But creativity isn’t a fixed feature of the mind — that’s why merely exposing people to the color blue can double their creative output.”—Jonah Lehrer in “Imagine: How Creativity Works” (via davidall)
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
People first. The most important thing we have – in the world, in our businesses, in our cities, in our organizations – are the people we’re surrounded with, yet we routinely struggle with unlocking the potential of human capital. If technology can change the way we connect, communicate, build, and understand, then we have the power to change the world. The advent of social enterprises is an exercise in understanding how to unlock human potential.
I want to figure out how people work and how cities work, and how we can make them better, through re-inventing the business models of architecture and design, or changing the stories we tell about how design works. I currently work at the intersections of architecture, design, city-building, technology, psychology and motivation. We’re entering a world that’s becoming predominantly metropolitan, but those metropolitan areas are mostly informal: today, cities are being built at an unprecedented rate. It’s been said that cities are the new start up; but inherent in each turn of the world, we still need to figure out ways to connect people, ideas, and resources in ways that enable projects and ideas to prosper.
The problem of architecture and the culture of overtime
“Working overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication.” – Valve Software employee manual
There is a problem in architecture, and design, and people aren’t talking about it. Employees routinely work overtime, until they cannot anymore, and they do not report, nor charge, for these hours. The culture of architecture is one of all-nighters and work-til-you-drop, and to leave at 5:30 is considered sacrilegious and weak. You are not contributing if you do not stay late.
I wholeheartedly and fundamentally disagree. The question should not be, “how many hours did you work?” but “what did you do?” and “how well did you do it?” We should value the product, not this archaic, strange process. Is the work good? Or rather, is it great? I would much prefer to have an employee who accomplished brilliance in 6 hours - and found time to laugh, swim, play, and jump - than someone who had to spend 16 hours to do the same thing. Are we so wrapped up in this idea of time as the only indicator of performance, that we forget what we’re actually trying to do?
Further, the erosive nature of this culture means that we are consistently undervaluing what we do—by not charging for the time and energy it takes to be creative. If we don’t report, or bill, or account for the hours we work, we are all engaged in a game of driving down the value of ourselves, and our professional peers.
I think we’re afraid of actually being different, and wrap ourselves up in the idea of innovation through built work as achieved only as an incredible effort of exhaustive energy. Let’s question this assumption: can you create brilliance in limited time? Moreover, does the insertion of discipline requirements and tangible restraints actually create better productive work? Or do we view employees strictly as an expendable resource, ready to be used up and churned up, with only the best apprentices making it through the exhaustive, laborious years that suck up the energy of our youthful years.
In doing this process, are we losing the best talent? Are the people who could have been involved in architecture and design work leaving the field for other opportunities? Are we cultivating a sub-par class of professionals, the straggles that managed to stay on, the people who don’t actually think that things can be different? Yes, I’m insulting myself here. And you.
Let’s be truly innovative. Let’s find a way to work BETTER. Not “more.” Let’s do a hand sketch when trying to share an idea, and screw the 80+ hour rendering because both accomplish the same goal: getting the idea into the minds of our clients, and then getting that idea built. Let’s figure out ways to achieve our objective—building better worlds, and designing environments for human habitation—and not forget what our objective is in the first place.
In this rush to stay busy, have we forgetten what we’re trying to do?
After all, the entire profession cannot relegate itself to working almost exclusively on renos and extensions as I do. Commercial architectural firms are the biggest employers of architects and their slice of the pie continues to increase as we see mid-size practices morph and compress. The vast majority of architects will continue to be employees rather than employers.
There is a strange unspoken, yet ubiquitous, competitiveness within architecture offices. Who will leave first? Who has put in the most hours? Who looks busiest? Who gets along best with the boss? Whose timesheet is full of ‘office’ and ‘admin’ hours?
When I worked for one of Australia’s largest commercial architectural firms I deliberately ignored this internal scrutiny. I did not want to compete with my fellow employees and I did not want to be exploited by my employer. I dedicated myself to producing the best work I could within the constraints of my employment agreement.
I would arrive no earlier than 8.30am. I would have a morning tea break daily. I would never work through lunch. I would try to leave at 5.30pm, ensuring that I was gone before 6pm. I would never work on weekends or public holidays.
This attitude, as expected, put me on a crash course with management. When it was clear that I was going to be uncompromising my employer became passive aggressive and easily rallied a handful of fellow employees against me. I was accused of not being a team player. I was accused of not being committed to my projects. The quiet hostility got to the point where I found it necessary to have my employment agreement front-and-centre on my desk, conveniently flipped to the page stating that my work day ceased at 5.30pm and my right to paid overtime should I work beyond this.
Eventually I surrendered to the realization that I was very much alone in exercising my rights. At no point during informal reviews of my work and attitude was the quality or quantity of the work I produced in question. I performed my contracted task well and received compliments from fellow employees about the care and rigor of my work. There was no evidence that I did any less work than other employees. However, it became obvious that one idealistic graduate commie upstart like myself was not going to change the exploitative office culture of one of Australia’s biggest firms. So I left.
Dear Lululemon. And Nike. And all womens’ athletic attire makers.
I will wear your clothes non-stop if you can help me figure out the following problem: I live in San Francisco. I run back and forth to meetings, sometimes 5-6 miles a day, in addition to my “sweaty” long runs that I do before or after work.
I currently wear rolled-up jeans, Saucony shoes, a stretchy shirt (usually a Lululemon “anti-stink” shirt), and I carry a long-sleeved sweater and a change of shoes to go with me (depending on the formality). I wrap the sweater in a belt and dust off my sweaty face when I arrive. I like to walk the last 3 blocks to get my breathing back to normal.
What if we ran everywhere we went, instead of cramping and crowding in buses and cars? What if I ditched the 5,000 pound hunk of metal that we load ourselves with and used my body, my fuel, to carry me there? What if we met in the middle?
I have a small black bag, and a big black bag, and I log my miles each week - we’re ticking up to about 30 each week, and that’s just from getting to and from meetings and stores.
When I go to the grocery, I get two bags so I can do bicep curls on the way home.
And I love throwing in a handstand or two.
So, lulu, can you make me a pair of running pants that have some sort of alternative/addition to prevent the “Hi-Here-Is-My-Ass” problem of walking into a business formal meeting with stretchy spandex on? And can we create something easy to move in, dries quickly, and easy to present in? We’re about 80% there, but with some tweaks, I’ll soon have my Superwoman outfit ready to go, and I’ll only need 2 of them, and that’s it. That’s all I’ll wear.
“Suits and ties in an office are just another type of uniform, but in an arena where uniforms no longer serve any useful purpose. At one time they probably showed that the wearer was, at the very least, able to purchase and maintain a fairly expensive piece of fabric. Now, however, in an individualized, interconnected culture, your achievements speak for themselves. The suit and tie is an anachronism.”—Richard Branson on Office Ties and the Company Dress Code; Entrepreneur, May 29, 2012 (via davidall)
I woke up early, too early today, sometime around 2:30 in the morning. Or wee hours of the late night, depending on how you look at it. I usually nod back to sleep, but I couldn’t get dozy again, and I sat, propped up against a stack of pillows, in the dark, contemplating. My brain was stuck between the fuzzy space of dreams that felt far too real to be dreams, and the strange awkwardness of being awake, sensations of cold and dark pinging against my face, the hazy tickle of a cold still strangling my throat. In my mind, there was writing to do, and walking to do, and thinking to do, and pieces that weren’t yet sorted, and something stumbled me out of sleep and into a doozy, woozy sort of wakening. I wasn’t sure if sleep or wake would answer it, but for the life of me, I couldn’t sleep.
I’ve been sick for a few days, maybe almost a week, so my sinuses are thick and my breathing was tight. I didn’t like what was in my chest. Sleep, I wanted to sleep. I wish I could sleep. My brain is cloudy, and I don’t think I’m thinking correctly—actually I can tell that I’m not, by the strange decisions I’m making, by how it feels to climb stairs, by the way the floorboards seem springier under my footsteps, as though they are conspiring to make me fall. And yet my body, this body, it tingled with wakefulness. But it was freezing, and I couldn’t warm up, and the blankets called. I balked.
I suppose by all accounts, being sick, tired, in the dark, and short on sleep should propel you away from entering the world outside. The doors, they open out, into the world, and our houses just cluster us in small pockets of space. If you think about the world in reverse—the open is shared, and the homes are private enclaves, and instead of going home inwards, we go home, together, outwards— and then, the space between the buildings—do you see it? All that space? All those corners and rectangles and edges and boundaries? The space between the walls, we walk into a world of ours, of sharing, and it’s time we changed this strange cultural perspective of MINE and ME and don’t-cross-here lines and arbitrary daguerreotypes, to a culture of sharing, collaboration, and interesting intersections between people and processes and things. I’m not suggesting the devils of communism, or stripping away the modalities of capitalism; but I am suggesting that the infrastructure at play and the components in front of us can be re-turned around in a few more wealth cycle iterations through the rise of micro-entrepreneurship.
If you think that the sharing economy is the devil, look back at the histories of advertising from the past century, and the Ford Motor ads that boasted that each person could have a 7-person vehicle for just themselves. We worked ourselves into a tizzy of ownership and possession, stemming from what, well, I’m not certain—but a slackening of this strange demarcation and perhaps an introduction of more nuanced gradients of public-private social, shared, and infrastructural space could help us figure our way into a blend of what’s the best of (and for) humanity.
Do I know what I’m talking about? No. Do I have ideas? Yes. Am I proposing a massive disruption? No. The complexities of ecosystems tells me enough about how nuanced the interactions are between symbiotic organisms, and to propose a reconstruction could be more deleterious than suggesting subtle changes. Instead, rather, the question is framed as “what’s not working about what we have now?” and then, “how can we tweak to get there?”
This is the rumble, the sensibility that comes to mind when I wake up in the slumber. My stomach hurts a bit, I haven’t taken a shit in far too long, and I’m inexplicably thirsty even though I’ve had four or more bottles of water while sleeping. My legs want to run, my head is pounding, and I’m desperate to be back at the computer, just to write. And it’s pitch black, the moon shifting again in the midnight-morning hours, the fog rolling in overhead, the city sky lightening slightly as the hours wane into morning. The low cannon of the fog horn sounds on repeat, and I get up, 3:30, awake, disorganized, puzzled, ready for a wander. My feet are burning with the cold icy temperature of my body’s inability to circulate blood. I breathe. Breathing is free. I make a cup of lemon tea, but I don’t have tea so I put a whole lemon into a lot of hot water and I drink it in. This is okay. I need to run. It’s dark. I don’t think about running like exercise, but I need to wiggle my legs. And my brain, still cloudy with the fog of a cold or some other sickness, doesn’t comprehend the components that might be helpful, but rather, I stumble down the dark stairs and I head outside and I start walking, walking, walking, and then my legs are pattering along the sidewalks and somewhere around the pinnacle of Russian Hill I realize that I’m not wearing a bra, that my underwear is the uncomfortable kind, and I’ve forgotten everything about prototypical running of the modern era, and my cotton sweatshirt is getting sticky. A long while ago I agreed with the status quo decision to forgo cotton in lieu of the technical material that some master companies told me were better to run in, and as the weight of the cotton lies on my shoulders, I see why some smart people in some building made that decision, and why I agreed. But I don’t care. My tiny tits jiggle a little free-er than they usually do, and my legs wobble and I have trouble breathing up the long stairs, but the air is better for me, and even though,—even though—
—even though I’m sick, even though I’m tired, even though it’s midnight, even though it’s the wrong time, even though I’m alone, even though I didn’t sleep, even though I’m not wearing the right underwear, even though my sweatshirt sticks, even though I don’t know how I’ll get through the day, even though I’m scared, even though the homeless man looks more afraid of me than I of him, even though I left my glasses on and the world is darting at me, magnified, even though I don’t have headphones, even though I don’t know what I’m doing, even though—
Even though everything tells me I shouldn’t or can’t or wouldn’t it be better if, and, or, or, — even though, I still will, because if I were naked and freezing and scared and tired, I’ll still do it anyways, and this is the commitment I make to myself, my heart, my mind, my body when I roll out of the bed in the strange hours of the day; that I will do it anyways, regardless, because, because we must, and if we wait for perfect—then all we’re doing is waiting. And the genius lies in the man who does it anyways, who excels anyways, who fights for something in the face of opposition, who makes it possible when everyone is shouting that it’s impossible.
And it’s a little bit, a short run, a wander through the hills, staring into the clouds and foggy shadows rolling across the flat early morning waters of the bay, that help my mind settle and sink, and the thoughts start to fold together a little more, and I know that walking, moving, dancing across the heavy weight of the cement, folding myself into the nooks of trees, tickling the grass with my palms, talking to the earth by laying my heart heavy chest down upon it, draping my being across the bumps and folds of the city structures that we laid here, together, in our collective strange humanity—this is what it means to be a person, and to leave a small print. Watching, I see the world created in a strange stop-motion video, except in eons, and I see the carvings of the cityscape build and tumble, erect and statuesque, growing just like any other organism, the coral reef of the airscape, building shell fragments upon shell fragments, responding to the invisible flows of money, time, process, value, desire, economy, law. And in it, we occupy the ancient shells of our coral ancestors, we live in it, and the cement moves, and the land sighs, and we dance across it, gently, roughly, uniquely. And me, I get to wiggle-walk and skip-doodle down the lumbering hills, talking to the city with my feet, bouncing in chimes with the way the world is for one brief moment, enmeshing my brain in the art of being, in the beautiful art of walking.
As Geoff Nicholson says in his book, The Lost Art Of Walking, "writing is one way of making the world our own, and walking is another; words inscribe a text in the same way that a walk inscribes space.” We are beings, born engineers, born architects, with an urgency and need to create, to build, to inscribe ourselves in space and on the world—and we can do this, simply, by talking, by touching, by walking, by writing, by seeing. The people who reach out to me and say, I want to write, but I don’t know how—they want to tell their story, see their words, be a creator. I say, do it. Do it now, do it often, do it every day, because yes, you are a creator. You are a builder. You are a maker. The desperation with which our generation wants to add “Author,” to our self biographies speaks to this collective need for creation; too often we crave the done-ness of authorship as opposed to the evolution and perpetuation of writing. I am a writer; I write. I am never done. Today, I don’t know where I started, I don’t know what the writing means, I just know that coming back, walking home, tits in a tumble, laughing and coughing, that I’ll try to create something today. And hopefully get a bit more sleep.
What I’d really like to do, said the Master of the Universe, is figure out a way to install a tracking device in each of the humans so I know where they are at all times. So I can better understand their behavior, and manipulate them.
I’ve got an idea, said the Sly Devil, his constant companion. Why don’t we make something that they want to have, that they’ll carry voluntarily? We’ll make a small computer device and build it up with games and social triggers so that they hold it, carry it, and cuddle with it at night. We can track their movement, migration, activity, and behavior patterns.
The Master of the Universe paused, considering. You think we can make something like that? Something that everyone wants, and everyone will carry?
Sure we can, the Sly Devil replied. We invented that piece of plastic, you know. Don’t you remember? We made each of them get a card with numbers on it. We couldn’t figure out a way for them to each wear a tracking code—all of that social security bullshit was useless and only good in one country, anyways. But once we gave it power, we gave the plastic value—everyone wanted one. All you have to do is create a way for them to use that small plastic square in exchange for goods, and once it has value, they’ll use it everywhere.
He continued to explain: If we can get people to love these devices so much—if we can get them trapped into the objects, buried under the deceptive weight of borrowing and the need to know everything about each other, then we can manipulate human behavior for centuries.
The Master of the Universe paused. What about people who don’t? Do you think that some people will shirk the idea of a credit card and an iphone?
Certainly, the Sly Devil said, there will be a few. And it will be a challenge to convince developing countries’ citizens that each person needs a phone. Those rare, brave few, the ones that live without credit and connective devices,—perhaps those are the brilliant ones. Or maybe they’ll be outnumbered, and they’ll just die off.
Or, he thought to himself…maybe we can find a way to get rid of them.
Sometimes I travel alone, awash in pockets of people, but largely independent and by myself.
It’s a bit late, late on the last day of my travels and I’m laughing, drinking, enjoying the refreshing rooftop air of friendship.
The elevator is red, lined with quilted upholstery and set with low lights, the mood of the entire venue. It’s a quirky hotel, a space meant for youth and sex, for drinking and play. Upstairs the concrete wall of the adjacent high rise is used for summer movies. It’s another trip to LA per usual, a mix of business and social, of cities and airplanes. I smile, a group of unfamiliar faces ech heading home, back to work. We leave, a short escalator down the hallway and then another elevator.
I walk down the hall. The hall is quiet, safe, a white-on-gray motif; inconsequential and somewhat sterile. For several days, this has been my home away from home, a brown luggage bag and two cloth bags with my computer and technical equipment propped up against the corner. More than half of the luggage space is taken up with my running shoes and clothes; I’ve got a sparsely packed set of business clothes that I’ve worn, washed, and re-worn for the duration of my two weeks away. The bathroom lacks a counter, so my excessive set of toiletries is spread out on the tile, my toothbrush wrapped up in a small plastic baggie.
I’ll head home tomorrow, back to my apartment, and it will be nice to finally get home, sleep in my own bed, wash my clothes with the scent of my own detergent, turn my legs upside down and rest against a wall. Think against the space of the familiar, just for a little while.
My head is buzzing a little bit from the late-night drink. I shake out, cross my arms, ready to go home. I push the button on the elevator; a tinny yellow light turns on. My legs are tired. The hallway is quiet, I look up, and ding, the door slides open from the center. I go in. I’m by myself.
Down the hall there is laughter, a group of people, young friends making a ruckus. The elevator door slides shut. I lean against the wall. Ding. Ding. We move up to the fourth floor and slow to a stop. The doors open.
My neck pricks a bit, and I put my face down; I don’t like this. I don’t know what it is, but something’s not right. Four men walk in, teetering with drink, laughing at each other. The man on the left shifts, a heavyset man, easily 5 inches taller than me, and he bends over in a small chortle. They are laughing. They are all wearing black. The four footsteps into the elevator are deafening. I bow my head, re-push the button for the 8th floor, and look down at the floor.
From behind me, the scrawny one can’t help himself. They’ve been drinking. He lets out caustically, “on your way to the next one?” –
I am stunned, but I don’t move. The one in the front giggles. The ones behind square out. He continues,
“How was fucking the last one? You have a good time? At least you have time to go to the next one. You can make a few more bucks now,”
I’m wearing pants. Black pants, long black pants, and covered shoes. I have a long-sleeved, high neck black t-shirt on. I’m not wearing make-up. I’m not even dressed to go out. My stomach is not exposed, not that that should matter. My attire is more like pajamas, my face is nothing, my eyes a little drunk, my head bowed.
The elevator dings to the eight floor. I slide silently past the men and walk to the left. I walk slowly, deliberately, listening to hear if any of them get off the elevator at the same time as me. The metal door slides slowly back into place. I turn around, checking. No one is there. I wait, measuring out the time against the beat of my heart.
I walk to my room and look both ways, entering. I lock the deadbolt. Six minutes ago I was laughing with my coworkers. In the space of the travel home, my body has slumped, my mind has changed. I take off my clothes, dirty. I shower.
Derek Thompson and Steve Blank wrote a bait-worthy article about the demise of Silicon Valley post-Facebook IPO, and I have to initially disagree with some of the points made. From the article:
THOMPSON: What does the Facebook IPO mean for Silicon Valley?
BLANK: I think it’s the beginning of the end of the valley as we know it. Silicon Valley historically would invest in science, and technology, and, you know, actual silicon. If you were a good VC you could make $100 million. Now there’s a new pattern created by two big ideas. First, for the first time ever, you have computer devices, mobile and tablet especially, in the hands of billions of people. Second is that we are moving all the social needs that we used to do face-to-face, and we’re doing them on a computer.
Personally, I think we’re missing something fairly big here, and that’s if you create wealth within one sector (or geographic location), you also create opportunity. There are multiple examples of people building a technology in the social space, and those folks are then turning around to invest in research, science, social entrepreneuship, and invention with the millions that they make. If we enable hundreds of people to generate wealth through social, and then even a fraction of those folks turn and invest in products and projects that advance science and engineering, are we really watching “The demise of Silicon Valley?”
Perhaps the funding direction is changing — we’re witnessing more millionaires than ever before invest in predominantly social and mobile innovations, which at first glance makes it appear as though money is being diverted from traditional routes (into STEM projects).
However, the way investing and funding is changing in several ways, and just because the first wealth circuit isn’t straight towards STEM doesn’t mean the output generated isn’t brilliant of it’s own accord. For example: we’re seeing social generate the ability to crowd-source funding (Kiva, Charity Water, Kickstarter), which is demonstrating that financing in the valley doesn’t have to be speculation on behalf of singular wealthy individuals.
We’re also seeing multiple case studies of individuals generating profit and then turning around and investing that into non-profit, charitable, and technology sectors—from the classic example of Bill Gates to micro examples including folks like Ryan Allis (CEO of iContact and, in turn, investing through his Humanity Fund). Would they have been able to invest if they hadn’t been successful first?
I agree with Blank that a lot of energy seems overly directed towards social (particularly energy as money), but disagree with the conclusion that this is ultimately erosive for the creativity of Silicon Valley (or elsewhere).
“‘Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’”—~Lao Tzu, via Contentedness by Leo Babauta; sent to me via Corbett Barr
I don’t care who you are
when you’re well fed,
Put together, prepared,
And so called ready…
I care who you are when you’re
tired, worn out, beleaguered, scared, underfed, miserable, and alone.
Because who you are then —
When the worst conspires against you — this is the essence of your humanity.
And if you can do it then,
You can do it any time.
Swimming taught me this; when you’re tired, scared, unsure, insecure, and think you can’t:
Do it anyways,
Di it because you have no right
Because the odds are stacked against you;
Because your mind plays tricks
And tenacity builds your soul
Because of the adversity,
You still fucking can,
So do it anyways.
Do it better than the rest of them,
knowing that if you do it now,
in spite of this,
“There is here no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer.”— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet; sent to me via Alex Miles Younger.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”— T.R. Roosevelt. La Sorbonne. April, 1910.
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
"The way you do anything, is the way you do everything." — My friend Francis mentioned this to me in outlining his beliefs, and I realized why I’m having such a hard time this week. I believe in so many things. I know so much about what I want to do.
But doing, doing—DOING it the way that you say that you’re going to do is extraodinarily difficult at times. I let a friend down this week. I made a promise I couldn’t keep. On another project, I was behind on several deadlines. I didn’t go running as much as I wanted to. I let a few teams down.
In short, but what weighs heavily, is that I’m disappointed in myself.
My friend Shane keeps me accountable (whether he likes it or not!) because in his book coming out this summer, he writes:
"Stop sending me tweets you don’t actually do."
And he doesn’t know this, but every time—EVERY TIME—I tweet, I think about that phrase. Sometimes I write them down to remind myself to be better, to live up to the things I ascribe to. But saying them is easy. Tweeting is easy. It’s not enough to say things. You have to do them. And the difference between saying something and actually doing it can be exceptionally, unbelievably, extraordinarily difficult.
Want to make yourself one of the elite in humanity? Do what you say you’re going to do. Be accountable. Be dependable. Work your ass off.
And the way you do everything, not just some things, is what you are. If you drop trash on the street and don’t pick it up, and you donate to charity, you’re still both of these people.
Pick up your trash.
If you’re nice to the limo driver but rude to the waiter, you’re still rude to the waiter.
Holding yourself accountable to higher standards is hard. It can be very difficult for me. But when I don’t, I’m disappointed in myself. And that…that is maybe the worst.
Be inspired by the call to hold yourself to greater standards. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, but ultimately it’s deeply satisfying. I have days where I want to wake up and hide and be “nobody,” and shirk all responsibilities, but I’m far more proud of the opportunities that have arisen through the hard work than the occasional day when I want to regress. We’re not called to be the same people indefinitely. We have an opportunity to explore, experiment, grow, change … and we have to fight adaptation, habituation, resistance and fear… but god is it worth it!
These are the theories I’m working on at the moment: that our evolutionary brains developed to protect us and help us towards survival, but they aren’t necessarily adaptive for being great. In fact, being weird, different, or somewhat isolated is actually more in line with greatness and “success’ in life, but not with survival, and so our instincts rear their heads whenever we try to become outstanding, or push beyond our normal capabilities. If we can identify how and why different restrictions or habits in our psychology impede our success, we can get better at being outstanding individuals. For example, fear—what we’re afraid of, fear of change, fear of growth, social fears — these are all founded in the fact that evolutionarily, we’re wired to fit into the crowd and group to ensure our survival; change is often dangerous and not conducive to our own safety. Also, energy preservation is a big deal: habits are formed because it conserves psychological and physiological energy. However, breaking habits repeatedly over time to form new ones expands our capabilities.
This month, I was reading quite a few books that coincided - Man’s Search For Meaning, In The Garden of Beasts, and a history book called Europe 1789-1989, about the transitions and changes in Europe from monarchies and dictatorships to communist, socialist, and democratic societies. So much change, so much evil, so much good.
In “Man’s Search For Meaning,” which I highly recommend as a way to stop and pause for a bit, the author writes about his experiences in—and surviving—the concentration camps of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.
I finished up the last pages of the book while standing in line for a boat to a magical island, and obnoxious chattering pulled me out of the book’s heart-wrenching stories of the pain that can be associated with human evil. A woman was cutting in line and people were jeering at her, calling her names, bitching and moaning. I watched, quiet, and then I remarked,
"I’m reading about the concentration camps in Germany, and we’re all heading on the same boat to a luxury island. I think we’ll be OK if one person goes in front of us."
The chatter stopped. It’s all about perspective. Look widely, live freely, and be thankful.
In the foreword to the book, written by Harold Kushner, he says some things worth noting:
Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
… if this is true, I would offer up the question, why do we always strive to change the How, the Where, and the What, and not challenge up the Why?
"Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Adler taught, but a quest for meaning." — that is, why am I here? what’s the point?
"Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it."
Yes. I have seen a lot more and been through a lot more than most people realize in my life—it cracks me up when I hear comments about how easy my life must be—but at the same time, I know how wonderfully fortunate I am to be here, now, able to do everything I’m doing.
But what does it matter without meaning?
Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: “In work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times.”
I agree with Frankl’s positions—doing great work, despite the setbacks; loving each other and finding friendships across the world, like the ones we develop here and beyond; and working through challenges and setbacks—these are the gems; the meaning; the gold in life.
Showing up in New York and finding a friendship in Kym and Lauren and laughing like silly people and talking about everything? This, this is what’s worth it.
Drumming with Mark in the streets of Portland and hugging and being able to cherish sound and music? Love.
Talking triathlons and encouraging George across continents and building comradeship? Brilliant.
He says further on in the book, “What tricks are you learning while mastering the art of living?” This resonated with me. mastering the art of living.
He says, “You can master the art of living, even in a concentration camp, if you learn how to use humor, apathy, spirituality, acceptance, and hold on to the threads that make life important to you, no matter what anyone else says or does to you; in spite of the injustice of it all.”
The internet is a proliferation of advice about things, stuff, and life design — as if traveling throughout the world (the what, the how) is what’s important. That’s just on the surface. Giving up all your crap isn’t the important part. Finding out what really matters to you is the important part. The act of giving things up can reveal the why; the process helps us identify what we love and who we are; they are not the means to an end. These tools, these travels, these adventures are all smaller steps in uncovering our indiviudal meaning, and what value we place on our own lives.
So, this post is neither short nor simple, it turns out. But it’s not about me listing random accomplishments, or posting a photo of my adventures, or having some sort of checklist. Yes, that’s all part of the process—but it’s more than that. I love writing. I love doing. I’m doing things because I think in doing them, it will help other people build better lives, too.
I write because I see so much stunning beauty in the world, and writing makes my soul come alive. I love it. I also know, as I go through each turn of events, that the challenges and strife are OK. It’s part of the process. Each iteration, each turn, each choice—reaffirms my belief in what’s important and my acceptance of the fact that the HOW is not as important, as long as I have a WHY.
… An imaginary conversation from the future, in my head while wandering at night, of course:
"…And this is where we put little money coins into a stick in the ground, so that we could leave our 10,000 pound steel transport contraption on top of the asphalt; and this is where we get water that comes from the ground, in something we called a fire hydrant—
No, fire isn’t water, fire is different—yes, we put the water into pipes and tunnels; rivers were too unpredictable and terrifying so we built massive underground water carrying systems; — and on the side of that building, we called those “buildings” by the way, and we threw them up as quickly as possibly in the name of progress and change and “development,” — more on that later.
If you look closely at the side of it, the side of that building, there’s a place to stick a piece of plastic with numbers on it into a box and money comes out—money, well these pieces of paper with numbers on them that we called money but really had no gold value, we just used them as indicators of value so we could could all trade stuff with each other. Stuff, you know, like new sheets of cotton to drape over our bodies in vanity, or the latest apple product that let us consume more from the information stream…
And that’s a sidewalk… Yeah a place to walk that’s on the side. The side of what? Well it’s just on the side of all the cars and the side of the building, but people don’t really walk that much anymore …
You’re probably doing it wrong. Here, let me help you.
Avoid questions like “what are you doing Friday?” or “would you like to go out sometime?” or worse, assertions like “let me know what you’re doing this weekend” or “we should hang out sometime.” She may not know if you are asking her on a…