Earlier today, a colleague asked me why I sign my emails with an equals sign (“=Eugene”), which I’ve been doing since 2004.
The short, non-technical answer is that I was involved with a group back in the day that was promoting a new “universal” identifier scheme for people called i-names. Imagine a Twitter handle that worked on any platform, not just on Twitter, and that used an equal sign instead of an at sign (“@”). That’s essentially what an i-name was. Mine was =Eugene. (Actually, it wasn’t, but that’s a longer story.)
That initiative failed, but I just kept signing my emails that way out of habit. It doesn’t look that different from signing with an em-dash (“—”), and only a few folks have ever asked me about it.
I was born and bred in California, and I absolutely love it here. It is home, and there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
But California has its problems, and when I read articles full of breathless hubris like this one in Politico, I get concerned. The article states:
But while California has plenty of problems, from worsening wildfires to overpriced housing to that troubled bullet-train project that became the latest target of presidential mockery, there’s one serious hitch in the GOP plan to make California a symbol of Democratic dysfunction and socialistic stagnation: It’s basically thriving.
“California is doing awesome,” says Congressman Ted Lieu, an immigrant from Taiwan who co-chairs the policy and communications committee for the House Democratic Caucus. “It’s a beautiful, welcoming, environmentally friendly place that proves government can work. Who wants to run against that?”
California is now the world’s fifth-largest economy, up from eighth a decade ago. If it’s a socialist hellhole, it’s a socialist hellhole that somehow nurtured Apple, Google, Facebook, Tesla, Uber, Netflix, Oracle and Intel, not to mention old-economy stalwarts like Chevron, Disney, Wells Fargo and the Hollywood film industry. California firms still attract more venture capital than the rest of the country combined, while its farms produce more fruits, nuts and wine than the rest of the country combined. During the Great Recession, when the state was mired in a budget crisis so brutal its bond rating approached junk and it gave IOUs to government workers, mainstream media outlets were proclaiming the death of the California dream. But after a decade of steady growth that has consistently outpaced the nation’s, plus a significant tax hike on the wealthy, California is in much sounder fiscal shape; while federal deficits are soaring again, the state has erased its red ink and even stashed $13 billion in a rainy day fund.
Yes, California is a beautiful place, and we do a good job of trying to protect it. Yes, we are lucky to be the bread basket of the country, a function of our fertile land and climate, as well as the water we take from other places. Yes, we seemed to have recovered from our budget crisis… for now.
The Politico article cited above mentioned the housing problems here, but it doesn’t cite the poverty metrics. Most articles don’t. No one challenges the numbers, they just choose to ignore them. But being the poorest state in the country does not align with our values, and we need to reconcile this with all of the stuff that is great about this state.
The best explanation of the root causes responsible for many of our problems is California Crackup, by Joe Mathews and Mark Paul. I highly recommend it.
I saw the Charles and Ray Eames exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California this past weekend. (Thanks to James Cham for prolifically tweeting about it. It was really, really good.) Among the many highlights was this 1972 interview on design. It’s short and sweet, and you should read the whole thing. Here are my favorite excerpts:
What is your definition of “Design,” Monsieur Eames?
One could describe Design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.
Is Design an expression of art?
I would rather say it’s an expression of purpose. It may, if it is good enough, later be judged as art.
Is it a method of general expression?
No. It is a method of action.
Is Design a creation of an individual?
No, because to be realistic, one must always recognize the influence of those that have gone before.
Is Design a creation of a group?
Is there a Design ethic?
There are always Design constraints, and these often imply an ethic.
Does Design imply the idea of products that are necessarily useful?
Yes, even though the use might be very subtle.
Is it able to cooperate in the creation of works reserved solely for pleasure
Who would say that pleasure is not useful?
To whom does Design address itself: to the greatest number? to the specialists or the enlightened amateur? to a privileged social class?
Last year, I only wrote five posts on this blog, my fewest ever. It wasn’t for lack of material, and it wasn’t even because I didn’t have enough time. I did lots of journaling and drawing, I just did most of it in private.
I want to re-adjust…. I want to think out loud a lot more, especially about my work, while also still sharing the occasional personal tidbits.
Today is February 14. This is my seventh blog post of the year, which means that after 45 days, I have already published more than I did all of last year. I’m doing great! (I’m not just saying this. I truly feel this way.)
And, I’m struggling.
On the personal side (i.e. this blog), I have a bunch of half-written posts and notes. As far as I’m concerned, many of them are almost good enough to share, but that last bit of effort is still work, and I just haven’t been able to get there. I either need to make a tiny bit more space, or I need to re-frame my standards.
I’m really struggling on the professional side. I have some drafts that I’ve been working on for many months (in one case, for multiple years). I also have some posts that are almost ready to go. I co-wrote one of them with another person, which helped a lot. But I’m also trying to shave too many yaks, which is creating a bottleneck. I managed to force myself to publish something last week, which was not only relatively painless, but also got a nice response. However, I find myself stuck again.
I don’t want to overthink this. I’m doing great right now, and I’m probably not too far from getting over the hump. (Writing this is helping me.) But I’m realizing (to my surprise) that I’m suffering from a bit of performance anxiety. It’s all mindset. I wouldn’t say my audience today is much bigger than it was, say, 10 years ago. In fact, you could make a pretty good, data-driven case that it’s smaller. It’s less about size, more about self-perception, I think — vanity if I’m being honest. Somehow, it all feels higher stakes to me.
This is all good. It will help me be more empathetic when I’m helping others work more transparently and iteratively. And it’s a good reminder that it’s all about practice. Once I get some more reps in, I’m sure it will all get easier again. Let’s see.