Commentary

Nothing More, Nothing Less: A Visual Update

I’m a young man. It’s pretty cool. I have the chance to screw up a lot of things before I run out of chances to screw up a lot of things. So, why not take a leap?

This post is about a visual update, but it is also a personal update. You see, the site is going through a trim down. The previous design, while short-lived, was yet another stage in personal development. It was a clean, feature-filled distillation of a long-running dream to create this very blog. But the new, minimal design is a trimming down of the extraneous to what really matters: substance.

In addition, the new design is an attempt to follow the development of the Internet in tandem. People are reading on phones, tablets, laptops and the like and design features like good typography, large images, and scalable interfaces are more important than ever. This design, in my humble opinion, hits all those bases with aplomb.

So I hope you enjoy the trip. What you’re witnessing is one man’s journey, but I hope that through the mirror of your reading and reflection, you take a bit of a journey yourselves.

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Commentary, Philosophies

Do What You Love

I work at a respectable company. I’ll go ahead and skip the details and simply tell you that it is a good job that ensures that my paramour and I do not want for the necessities.

It is a rewarding job, though sometimes quite menial. Each day I show up around 8 AM and perform some technical tasks, some mundane ones, and then get home around 5 PM, much to the joy of a happy puppy and a beautiful girl.

This makes for a rather content existence, but there’s always a persistent feeling of wanting something more at my job. So, in order to remedy this, I took on the responsibility of writing and designing the company community newsletter alongside a couple of my co-workers. This, as it turns out, has been a more significant decision than I had anticipated.

I began editing our first issue one day, determining the layout, setting the typographical elements, etc. when I noticed that I had become quite hungry. I am not one to shy away from food; a hyperactive metabolism necessitates constant consumption or risk of acute discomfort at the lack of food within me. Altogether, this was quite peculiar. Had I really become so consumed with editing this little newsletter that I had not even been aware of one of my more basic needs?

I slept on it and as I put my shoes on to head in the next day, the newsletter the only real task ahead of me, I became aware of an expectancy that I had not experienced before at the prospect of leaving for work. The reality was now pretty plain: this copy-editing and designing was (gasp) fun.

There was an excitement about it. An excitement that, truth be told, we should all have when approaching our most basic endeavors. But the important thing that I wish to convey is this: you should not find ways to come to grips with what you do, but instead do what you love. It is a cliché at best, but it is a very real and important one. When we grow up, the common myth tells us that we must accept our less-than-attractive fate and deal with the banality that is adult life. That is simply not the case.

We now have more tools and opportunities available to us than ever before to make our dreams a reality; the list of valid excuses dwindles by the minute. Unlike in the 80’s when access to sound production meant paying out the ass for studio time and equipment, we now have the technology within our homes to become what we admire. I am not going to give up the stability and happiness of my family for the all-in pursuit of a dream, but I will dedicate what time I have available to the healthy commitment to a craft that brings me great pleasure.

We have needs in our lives, but they extend beyond food, water, and shelter. We need beauty, we need excitement and we need fulfillment. These things are present in the world, we need only to put in the work and find the way to make them present in our everyday lives. Now go get ’em tiger.

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Commentary, Habits, Philosophies

Is This Real Life?

Context: this particular post was written a couple of weeks ago while the misses was away for a business trip and my work was exceedingly stressful. The commentary is, however, no less universal today than it was then.

Barring a stroke of pure genius, welcome to my ham-fisted introduction, pounded out beligerently on the keyboard well past my bed time on a school night. I’m tired, my head hurts, my eyes are extremely dry, and the cat will, not stop, jumping, into, my lap. At this point, it’s hard to appreciate my tea or find the patience for studying Japanese, my physical circumstances simply don’t permit my attitude a sliver of optimism or enthusiasm. Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore that my perspective as a self-improvement junkie, aspiring polyglot (knower of many languages) welcomes the reluctant learning as a badge of honor; a moment when my willpower and intellectual curiosity won out over my physical circumstances.

You see, today was a difficult day. Besides the brow-beating a 9-to-5 work environment can regularly lay on unsuspecting victims, the absence of my paramour (business trip) has made maintenance of my usual (pardon the term) “swagger” exceedingly difficult. Physically drained, emotionally exhausted, and mentally taxed beyond my usual burn-the-bitch-at-both-ends work style, normal circumstances simply aren’t what they would be in the right lighting. My persistent pesimism born of a physical inability to muster a smile makes crackers bland, tea uninteresting, and conversations labored.

On the flip side, my usual sunny demeanor has its benefits, pardoxically serving as a hindrance to my dispassionate evaluation of the world around me. The same day, viewed with a good night’s sleep, a warm hug from mah bebe, and a fresh batch of esoteric albums to listen to would taste the same crackers with delight, sip the same tea with appreciation, and lead to joke after hilariously delivered joke (I’m a God damn delight). Unfortunately, what this means is that regardless of the circumstances, you and I both are bound and determined to have our subjective evaluations swayed more by our physiology than by the flavor of crackers in front of us (I’m really hungry and all we have are crackers).

So what defines us? Clearly we aren’t serial killers one day and happy-bunnies the next. You see, the common thread that runs through all of our perceptions is our perspective. The perspective that comes from many years of living our own lives, walking in the shoes of others, and having cultural experiences that expand our minds. No matter how pissed off you get that X didn’t do Y or Z doesn’t taste like Q, down at your core you know who you are: a person capable of patience and empathy, unwilling to rely on heartburn and assumptions when making judgments or decisions. You are capable of doing better.

I’m not saying it’s easy, God knows it isn’t. But seeing the world objectively, not attaching a label or a positive/negative evaluation to everything you perceive will help you be a more calm, secure, and happy person. I speak from experience. Look beyond your assumptions and ask yourself, what is happening in this moment? And when you’re done, come back here and tell me about it because once my knee stops hurting and my complexion clears up, I will be a person that wants to hear about your life.

And you will be to.

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Commentary, Philosophies

Beauty as Necessity

I am not running for Congress, that much is clear. I’d like to begin with this statement because the following piece is going to seem like a pretty bald-faced “art in schools” speech. I’m not protecting the glee club, I’m not pushing for bigger arts budgets, and I’m not campaigning for mandatory music and art education.

Then again, maybe I am.

I’ll let you figure it out. Over the past several months my already kindling interest in graphic design, art, music, and photography has grown exponentially. I’ve found websites to stoke the flames, engaged in conversations with friends that cultivated my young ideals regarding the topic, I’ve even entered the creative “conversation” myself with my music and writing. The result has been difficult to ignore: either by accident or as a consequence, my demeanor has calmed, my relationships with others have grown more profound, and my appreciation of the little things in life has grown. In short, I’m discovering the fourth human necessity.

My interest began with a graphic designer and musician by the name of Scott Hansen. His blog, ISO50, featured unconventional art and photography, regular music posts, case studies of design in consumer products and publications, and a consistent and inspiring thread of fulfillment. Scott Hansen doesn’t just observe art, it is an extension of him.

For this young artist, his moniker, “Tycho” and the art that stems there-from, are as much a part of him as his right hand. The beauty he perceives in the world is as much a confirmation of his character as it is a satisfaction of his tastes. When he looks at a sunset, treated in a vintage filter and blurred to a dreamy state, this is how he views the world; that same calm that he experiences becomes him.

Art has a tendency to do this to people. Like Cameron in the Chicago History Museum, works of creativity have a way of staring into us, picking out a trait within us that we may be afraid to confront, proud to promote, or unaware of entirely. This knowledge of ourselves grows and makes us more confident, stretching into our engagements with others, manifesting as compassion, connection, and wisdom.

And when we see these displays in gaudy frames in an art museum, we begin to see their fingerprints everywhere. An especially beautiful picture of a sunset in Maui causes us to see our sunsets for their colors and meaning. A song about a subway station causes us to hear the sounds of the train tracks and ramblings of doomsday preachers in a different way. Our life becomes fuller, more meaningful, acting like a foley artist in a film, which brings to the forefront all of the things we would otherwise ignore.

I am more a believer now that I have ever been that the fourth human necessity, aside from water, food, and oxygen is beauty. The significance of our existence, our relationships, and our actions knows only chemical bonds and the passage of time without the inherent quality of beauty. Looked at subjectively, we are slaves to perception. Looked at objectively, we are little more than molecules. But looked at in conjunction, both through the lens of the human eye and within the rules of our physical world, ideas and transactions become meaningful, giving us purpose and peace.

Say what you will about Chinese math scores and the brain drain of the US economy. Without purpose, our calculations have no meaning. Beauty is as essential to our existence as the flesh of our bodies and, regardless of your artistic talent, you too are capable of both creating it and appreciating it in a way that will change the course of your life, right this very moment.

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Commentary, Philosophies

We Can Build It, We Have the Technology

I’m a self-help and productivity junkie; on that there is no argument. I’ll try any to-do list app, download calendar programs that make me breakfast, and use flashcards to memorize my strengths and weaknesses. During my perusing I came across two very interesting ideas: 1. Dreaming is usesless without doing and 2. social media is not a gathering, but a stage. The former is easy an extremely important idea, the latter a paradigm shift in the way we “act” in our lives, and the implication is a simple question: what are we really doing with our lives because of these truths?

The aforementioned calendar applications I have their uses, but the reality is that, until recently, I had been living my life for productivity. The flaw with this method, of course, is that productivity and creativity are not the end goals in themselves; they are the vehicles for greater action. For example, my unflappable determination to find the best to-do list has been long-developing and had, in its own rite, turned into a hobby of sorts. I would sift through the app store, mentally crossing off all the solutions I had tried and discarded. Once I finally found the holy grail (Any.DO, I highly recommend it), my immediate response was to go back to the app store and see if anything was better! Really? I had to ask myself “what am I really trying to accomplish here?” and, since answering that question, I have since been happier, more productive, and less broke on 99 cent apps.

Part of my new, more productive lifestyle was the utilization of news reader services, which led me to another truth that impacted my life significantly. Sifting through the news feeds of my favorite websites, I stumbled upon (using reddit, ironically) an article pointing to research that suggests that, though our methods of communication are more numerous/ubiquitous, our actual number of friends and meaningful activities had greatly declined (by as much as 40-50% in most cases). The research concluded that social networking of all kinds are not really a substitute for our in person interactions, but instead a platform upon which we may express ourselves in the presence of others. The principle makes sense: what requires a greater and, hence, more meaningful expenditure of personal resources? “Liking” a comment or going to have coffee with someone?

So I considered it and I came to a pretty confounding question: if tools facilitate action, and action dictates substance, why aren’t we using our tools to their fullest potential? Think about it: we can instantly exchange messages with friends, why not message them that their favorite band is playing right now? If we can post links on each others’ walls, why don’t we post the website of a restaurant we could go to? Extend the principle past social networking: if we can access the Library of fucking Congress, why can’t political junkies get their American history straight? I would never disparage pictures of cats (because I love them), but if we can instantly chat with someone of another nationality instantly, why aren’t we using the tool to become fluent in a new language?

Are we really using our tools to their fullest potential? Furthermore, are we really exercising ourselves to the fullest potential? I believe that we are not disinterested, but distracted; lost amongst the constant stimulation and too burdened by light-hearted entertainment to confront the real questions in our lives. Unable or unmotivated to learn and grow our intellectual garden, why not invest in and utilize the proper tools?

It’s really not a question of why but when. We have the tools, we have the information, and dreaming about our favorite endeavors is as useless as throwing coins in a fountain without the action to make them a reality. So consider, while you watch 300 and consider how bad ass Leonidas looks, why not work out? When you watch a cooking show and think “boy that looks good…” why not learn how to cook it? The world now more than ever is oversaturated with potential energy, the question is, when will you get up and start moving?

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What do you think? Are you ready to get started? Have you already started? Join the conversation on the Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Commentary

Dogeared: A Love Story

Ever since I was a high school sophomore, I have wanted a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The multi-volume, utterly (and, perhaps, overly) comprehensive work documenting the history and hilarity of our English language is as venerable as it is voluminous. Regardless of its actual utility in my life, I cannot help but be gripped by the history and authenticity that such a work represents; an academic pyramid of Giza, standing tall as a symbol of the human race’s commitment to knowledge.

But then I stumbled upon this article. Yes, it’s two years old but who the hell reads The Telegraph? Britains? We all know they aren’t really people. Anyway, reading the Telegraph article, I experienced a sensation whose closest analogue I can only imagine was shared by aspiring astronauts at the announcement of the termination of the Space Shuttle program. This pinnacle of human knowledge and achievement, of academic refinement and time-defying aspiration was suddenly gone.

Yes, I mean gone. The multi-volume print edition is, barring a meltdown of all Kindle processors, gone. The English language still exists, the OED3 is still due for release in electronic form, and the knowledge will still be available to the academic elite, but in my heart, this isn’t enough. Without the great bound works of knowledge, it feels like we’ve let go of something very real and very precious in our society. I continue to flail, kicking and screaming against the end of print books because they represent something beautiful in our world.

Facebook has digitized human interaction, and cheapened it in the process. Text communication has dumbed down our vocabularies and emotional IQs. What is a book without the experience of the meandering bookstore discovery, the substance of printed paper, and the physical connection that comes with turning the pages and smelling the other-worldly glorious odor of a freshly printed page? Simply churning through media without regard for the visceral journey of reading or experiencing it just feels vapid and, above all, tragic.

The convenience is great, yes. The ubiquity with which print media can now make its way into the hands of young children and even knowledge hungry adults is akin to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. But even so, do we need to abandon the majesty of a printed book altogether? We do not digitize teddy bears for a reason: because in many cases, there are still intense and important emotional and physical sensations to be felt from physical contact with something of substantive worth. I hope that in our quest to become a more informed society, we do not lose sight of that very human component of ourselves.

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Where do you lie in the debate? Comment on the Facebook page or at Twitter!

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Commentary, Philosophies

Ideal Craftsmanship

I’ve been obsessed for a while now with an outdoor goods company called Best Made Company. The enchantment is owed as much to their unobtainability (the products themselves are quite expensive) as it is to the allure of the products themselves. The pictures of each product allude to their quality, not just in product design but in aesthetic. But the question is, what pulls us in about goods like this? What is it about an aluminum, red first-aid kit with a lower case “x” in the middle that gets is hooks in us, rendering consideration for price and competing products a trivial conversation next to their intrinsic gravity?

The answer has to be price. I mean come on, it’s a simple formula: an attractive product with a prohibitively expensive price = instant purchase from anyone with some room on their credit card. We’re creatures who love our exclusivity. We demand exclusivity to the point that even validation of our tastes can result in a dulling of the sheen our objects of affection emanate. We find confidence in our selections especially when no other being in our social circle makes the same selection.

But that doesn’t work. I mean, the first thing I do when I check out the Best Made Co. website is search for affordable options; things I can justify purchasing to myself. I don’t need a $490 set of nautical flags, nor do I need a $300 axe. I don’t find these items any more appealing because they would empty my bank account, that’s just simply not the case.

Well then it’s gotta be the fact that I don’t own these things already. Grass is always greener, always. I don’t currently own a decent first-aid kit, so why not get an attractive one? I don’t own a jug of maple syrup, so I need one. Even if I have one stocking cap, this one is different. Different color, different material, different feel. It’s just different okay? I need it because it’s different and that has to be better.

But even typing that feels ridiculous. I take one look at that stocking cap and think “nah, I already have a stocking cap that’s functional and stylish, I’m good.” Similarly I just can’t add a set of playing cards to my cart, pay shipping, wait several days, and then use them if I can just drive to the grocery store and get the stupid things while finding out the top 50 ways to please my man. Onward and upward.

Presentation. Presen-fucking-tation my friend. Just look at the website for Christ’s sake. Well designed, attractive, the products laid out nice and cleanly, no attempts to hint at a lifestyle you could or could not possess. The imagination can run wild, project, hold the damn ram’s horn cups, fly the hand-made American flag. The whole catalog is my oyster, laid out cleanly and neatly, inspiring confidence and coolness, practically beckoning me into its beckoning arms. (beckoning)

No. No. And no. No. The website is gorgeous, yes. Even the design of the basic products is alluring, but I haven’t made a purchase solely based on a pretty pitch since that dating website claimed that Natalie Portman lived in Des Moines. I enjoy the colors but I don’t feel compelled by them the same way that I do by a Wal-Mart bargain, and we all know that nothing pretty happens at Wal-Mart.

So what is it? What allows me to accept higher prices as reasonable? Unpossessed products as worthwhile goals? A perfect presentation as an accurate description of the goods themselves?

The answer, is honesty.

You see, Best Made Co. is a rare thing in our society. The goods, as you can see by this video, are handcrafted by American laborers. Their quality is unmatched, the spirit imbued in their creation is passion. The website gives pictures of goods, a price, and nothing else unless requested. No spin up front.  Further information is available upon request, but even the information given is a simple description.

For that reason, prices are higher because they deserve to be, they are not lower because of over-farmed land. The location of their creation is known and their customer service team is a group of indivduals with real names, not Peggy in Turkmenistan. There is no pre-amble or editorializing upfront, the antithesis of a contemporary news cast. Their quality is intrinsic to the products themselves by way of manufacturing, thought, and intent, the same way that NPR considers time-honored journalistic principals when reporting political events and your loved ones tell you how wonderful you are to them instead of forcing you to assume and rely on yourself.

The heart of it is that heart counts. Shiny ideas, expensive cars, and well-drawn powerpoints can only do so much; it is only the opposite intersection of all our contemporary marketing fool’s gold that makes an idea worth listening to, a product worth purchasing, and a smile worth sharing.

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