Make Something. Don’t Be Nice.

sweat_it_out

I’m a private person. Over the years, I’ve found a nice balance between living and working openly while maintaining personal boundaries. I’m consistently surprised by the benefits of being selectively open and vulnerable in public.

My Photo-A-Day project has pushed these boundaries. On the one hand, I’m not that excited by how much I’ve shared about my life, even when they’ve only been tiny windows. On the other hand, what I have shared has resulted in deeper relationships with many people I care about. All in all, it’s been net positive.

Still, I feel discomfort, especially when I’m not feeling great. 2015 has been a stellar year overall, but I’m human, and I have my ups and downs. I’m going through one of those down periods now. It’s nothing serious — no one is dying, thank goodness. I’m going to get through it just fine, and I most definitely don’t want any sympathy. But forcing myself to continue publishing photos that tell an authentic story while also maintaining personal boundaries has been tough. I’ll be glad when this project is over.

I’ve found over the years that you mostly just have to wait out times like these. Sure, I have my coping mechanisms: basketball, music, food, family, friends, etc. They all work to some extent. But there’s really only one thing that consistently helps: Making things.

Make a picture. Make a tool. Write something down. Doodle. Make change. Make music. Make trouble. Make love. Just make something. Express yourself through making. And whatever you do, don’t be nice. Be you. Feel what you feel, and be okay with it.

The Special Quality of Crafts

Yanagi Soetsu, founder of the mingei (folk craft) movement in Japan, on craft:

The special quality of beauty in crafts is that it is a beauty of intimacy. Since the articles are to be lived with every day, this quality of intimacy is a natural requirement. The beauty of such objects is not so much of the noble, the huge or the lofty as the beauty of the familiar. People hang art high up on the walls, but they place objects for everyday use close to them, and take them into their hands.

Via the Tom Bihn blog.

To Practice Any Art Is a Way to Make Your Soul Grow

From Kurt Vonnegut’s September 22, 2003 speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (via Richa Agarwal):

I realize that some of you may have come in hopes of hearing tips on how to become a professional writer. I say to you, “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

But actually, to practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it. Dance on your way out of here. Sing on your way out of here. Write a love poem when you get home. Draw a picture of your bed or roommate.

Learners and Teachers

In his Foreword to Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, Michael Chabon writes:

It is the way of confidence men and tricksters to sell you what you already own; but a great writer, in so doing, always finds a way to enrich you by the game.

The same applies to great teachers, too. Pondering this as I think fondly and appreciatively about one of my great teachers.

Thanks to Neil Kandalgaonkar for recommending this book.

Sophistication Versus Literacy

I frame my work and mission around this notion of collaborative literacy. The idea is that our ability to collaborate effectively can be thought of as a type of literacy, something that we can develop and enhance through practice.

There are lots of great examples of how this manifests itself in other fields. A few weeks ago, I talked about cooking literacy in a Faster Than 20 blog post entitled, “Chefs, Not Recipes: The Tyranny of Tools and Best Practices.”

Tony Zhou’s wonderful video (brought to my attention via Alan Murabayashi’s blog post) talks about movie-making literacy using action film auteur Michael Bay as his subject. It’s a thoughtful breakdown of the difference between visual sophistication and visual literacy. At worst, if you’re a movie fan, you’ll walk away with a very concrete understanding of “Bayhem.”

I see a similar phenomenon in a lot of collaborative processes, where people patch together tools and “hot” concepts into experiences that seem collaboratively sophisticated, but that aren’t particularly collaboratively literate. Getting people into a circle and putting up lots of stickies does not necessarily equate to a great collaborative experience. I’d like to help prevent collaborative Bayhem.