Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

On Financial Habits

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Why bother with any financial planning when you don’t have any funds to… plan? While this line of logic isn’t entirely sound, I understand it entirely. It’s easy to see how it becomes reality if someone is stuck in debt quicksand, or has negligible savings or an unsustainable income. Toss in a couple of kids, maybe an illness, or a layoff, and forget it. Exhaustion usually wins out at that point.

It’s a relatable fact of life for many. Education was the “way out” in our house, valued above any other type of investment. Because there was no other option. I listened and put myself through school, graduating with 60k in student loans. Then I moved to Chicago with two suitcases, and $500 dollars to my name. No job lined up, no parental safety net. I shared a lilliputian studio apartment with a friend, sleeping on the floor because there wasn’t a couch to make a bed. At one point around this time, someone gave me Suze Orman’s Money Book for the Young Fabulous and Broke, which I read but didn’t manage to retain a lot of it. The entry-level design job I’d found by that point was paying me $12/hr, so I glossed over the non-applicable sections on 401ks (ha), buying a car (as if) or a house (not a chance). Suze’s mask-like perma-grin and aggressively popped collars didn’t help either.

Later, I did manage to set up 401k at another design agency job that offered a more respectable benefits package. However, it was for precisely 6 months. 2008 happened and it seemed like half the city got laid off, taking me with, and launching me into this life I have now. 6 months wasn’t long enough for the company to match the savings, so the modest sum was dispatched back to me and I had to pay taxes on it as income. Less than a return on investment.

These days though, after 5 years of self-employment as Pitch Design Union, it’s way more complicated than I could have expected. Still, every year gets a little better. Experience is everything, as is a good accountant. I still have debt, but it’s in a manageable place. There’s still so much more I need to be doing though, and I’ve been looking for ways to speed up this process. Lo and behold, the internet in all it’s wide and baffling awesomeness has many answers. (Spoiler alert.) At this point one of the tools that’s helping the most is NPR’s Marketplace Money show. Hearing people call in with questions is great because it makes me think of what my questions are. There’s always something new to think about that never would have occurred to me alone.

When I feel like reading the Billfold is my next step followed by Mr. Money Moustache. The Billfold’s series “How Do Other People Do Money” is great. It’s tag is simply: DOING MONEY which makes me laugh because all-caps blundering is pretty much what it feels like.  Mr.Money definitely seems cheesy at first, but I swallowed that reaction when I saw that this guy was able to save enough money to retire at 30. Yes, he is a lunatic financial magician, but clearly this is a person who knows a thing or two about improving saving habits. Still looking for more, always. The Design Sponge Biz Ladies column might have some ideas, but not in their recent posts nor the first few search results. And since it’s 1 am I’m not about to click through years of archives. I’ve also found a number of resources that have a distinct bro-y vibe, or sound like a used car salesman. It’s hard to trust what they have to say. Have you found anything good lately? Send ‘em my way & I will put them in my newsletter. (If you’re new here, you can sign up here.)

Inspire Vs. Influence

Has anyone ever asked “what inspires you?” It is a valid question, but I think it misses the mark a little. It implies that getting inspired is something that just happens, as if by chance. It’s fleeting and out of our control. I think “what influences you?” is a better, more empowering question. It means that we get to chose what filters and funnels into, and out of, our work. Influence is contagious; it has a lineage that can be traced. Viral, as it were. Good things go viral, but a lot of crap too. We all have positive and negative influences in life, and sometimes they are the same thing which is tricky. Consuming and enjoying content that has roots in negative places is perfectly fine, so long as we are critical and conscious of the negative aspects. I’m an ardent hip hop fan, even though there’s a lot of it that is gross, violent, misogynistic, vapid. There’s also a lot that’s not those things. It is even possible to like some of the iffy stuff and not be a bad person, especially if this fact is acknowledged and balanced somehow.

If you are searching for a way to grow your influence, then you must question what is currently influencing you, and shift your focus to target what’s most accessible and likely to influence a wider and more diverse group of people. We must all remember: reacting in a better way than our negative influences is the only way to ensure that what we make in response will have a better affect on others in turn.

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One of the best times I learned this was last summer when I was working on a book with Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects. The book featured a selection of Studio Gang’s projects and the kernels and idea seeds that sprouted them. One notable example is the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. The design for the building is influences by this photo of the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo in 2011. This highly organized camp is what the protestors built together in order to promote their cause. It’s a perfect thing to influence a building of the same goal.

The façade of the building is made from cross-sections of tree trunks cemented together. The idea for this came from Obama’s inauguration in 2009. You can see the faces and diverse attendees in the crowd are echoed in the different colors and types of wood. To take it a step further, Studio Gang reversed-engineered the construction so it was carbon-neutral and highly insulating for the smallest environmental impact possible.

Compare this to a similar project from one of Jeanne’s contemporaries. Another world-renowned architect once made a book of his influences, a beautiful and expensively produced tome, with the side effect of revealing his love for trashy imagery that diminishes women. Quite the difference in influence, no?

So what else can good influence look like? Here’s some examples that the show influence in a variety of ways, all surprising & unique. Why did I pick videos to showcase this? Well, TV is most accessible type of culture these days, with the capability to affect a huge amount of people in moments. Also, there’s so SO much dumb/tacky/off-color/whatever TV, I wanted to curate some of the best. After watching hundreds of videos over the last few weeks, these are my favorites. I hope you enjoy.

 

[Full disclosure, the Apple one was included as a thank you to Apple for hosting me. And, if we have to watch a commercial at least it's a good one, eh?]

 

Thanks for reading/watching! Want more? Sign yourself up for my newsletter, there’s plenty more I’m sharing there. Also, in the interest of transparency of what *my* influences are, here’s the places and people who helped shape this talk.  No secrets or guilty pleasures here. :-)

Quora, Ann Friedman, Swiss Miss, The Hairpin, The Kid Should See This, io9, Erin Kissane, the Fox is Black, Diana Kimball, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonah Lehrer, Radiolab, Lindy West, George Saunders, LA Times, this article on Wikipedia. And of course, Youtube and Vimeo.

The content is re-published from my Apple store talk last week.

On Listening

“I believe equality will be won with thousands of small, quiet gestures…Every time someone, male or female, steps up and declares that they’re taking action, the more likely it is that these gestures will happen when they need to.”

This is an excerpt from nickd’s blog on the choices he’s made to promote diversity and gender balance in his life and career. It’s an excellent list; if you need any ideas, please start there. Aside from that, I want to supplement his post with a couple of additional requests of my own. And while there are plenty of big ticket feminist issues that deserve every ounce of discussion and support they can get, today I want to focus on making little changes in our daily lives too.

Here’s a scenario that happens frequently at social events. I’m there happily shooting the breeze with an acquaintance of some kind – let’s call him guy #1. Suddenly, guy #2 comes up to say hello to guy #1, perhaps cutting me off in the middle of a sentence. And then the two of them start talking together, as if I weren’t a part of the original conversation. Guy #1 doesn’t introduce me, and I’m left awkwardly half in the conversation, half removed from it. This is irritating, but what’s even worse is what often happens after this.

Depending on how much I like either one of these guys, I will make attempts to insert myself back into the discussion. However, this sometimes doesn’t work: my comments or questions are simply ignored or diverted. This behavior is reductive and has the affect of making a person feel invisible. No good outcome comes from this, typically I decide neither guy has manners and I walk away, and our relationship remains tenuous.

The most memorable example of this happened last year while Chad & I went on a weekend jaunt up to Milwaukee to see art and take a break from Chicago. We went to an apartment gallery, American Fantasy Classics, which was more apartment than gallery; maybe 10 people were there. Chad knew a guy who had artwork up, and they eagerly began talking about running art spaces. This guy knew of the Post Family, and started peppering Chad with questions. At this point I’m wandering around solo, trying to make sense of the most arresting piece of artwork in the show. It was a cartoonish and grotesque sculpture of a horse made of collected bits of trash and fabric, complete with a creepy and glittering oversized penis. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the sculpture’s overt statement was a preview of the macho behavior I was about to encounter.

I made my way back to Chad, curious to hear more about the space and its baffling artwork. Introductions are made, and the conversation carries on – only I’m not part of it. I try multiple times to insert myself, offering insightful and relevant things to the conversation. I’m met with blank stare and diversion, followed by, “So, Chad, what about…?” Chad, thankfully, sees me getting frustrated and makes a point to explain why I know what I’m talking about. I kid you not, this guy did a double take. In this moment I transformed into a real person with valid thoughts and feelings.

It’s not right that it takes Chad – or anyone – to speak up on my behalf in order to be taken seriously. I am not a unicorn. I am a person, and I’m good enough on my own. You just have to talk with me, not at me, hear my words and respond in kind.

Even though this is a small request, my hope is that it catalyzes more listening, without complaint. So often when I see anyone making a stand for better treatment of women and minorities, there’s at least one guy bemoaning the request or making attempts to justify or defend the boorish behavior. I am so done with that response. It only makes things worse – it’s so much better to accept it with a smile, and offer an earnest apology so we can both move on. We can even still be friends; in fact, I will respect you that much more for handling the foible with grace.

This isn’t just my own perspective either. In Mychal Denzel Smith’s recent piece White People Have to Give Up Racism, on The Nation, he makes a similar argument with regard to African American culture. Among many great points, he implores white people to improve their listening skills. How? One way is to seek out more diverse media, but another is to simply hear what’s already being said around you. Chances are excellent that we’ve been talking this whole time, but you just had us on another channel.

How San Francisco gets me writing again

I should just write. I should. Stop over-thinking it. Just….do….it. Okay, go. Now. I’m going. I’m starting, picking up the thread not knowing where exactly I left off or how to start or fill you in. Life doesn’t follow such a tidy narrative though, so I guess it’s okay if blogs don’t either. In an email from my friend Kate Singleton of Buy Some Damn Art / Art Hound said, any blog posts are good. Even if they are sputtering and sporadic.

I came down with shingles in August, with my recovery lasting well into September. The only explanation for why, in my case, was months of prolonged stress. While the virus wasn’t terribly painful – I was lucky in that respect, but it did cause 4 days of temporary blindness in my right eye, many doctors visits (thank goodness I have insurance), medicines, and strict orders to take it easy. Very easy. Okay message received, universe: clearly it’s time to make some changes. What changes exactly, I’m still thinking about, but I’m happy to report that I’m physically back-to-normal. After taking a significant break from maintaining any kind of personal work – ie this blog or anything else, I’m finding my way back to it. I get some flickers of inspiration here and there, lukewarm at best, so I know I’m not totally broken. But I knew travel would speed things up, and it just so happened that Chad & I had booked crazy discounted tickets to San Francisco way back in the spring so the timing was perfect.

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The biggest reason for the trip was Tony & Kat’s wedding, but there were also self-assigned work: museums, galleries, literature, hiking, a golden visit to the Pacific ocean, a tour of artist Lisa Congdon’s studio, and coffee with Makeshift Society owner, the masterful Rena Tom. Our adventures took us all over the Bay area, on Bart, MUNI, ferry, car, bicycle, streetcar, taxi, and of course on foot. We saw more organic produce at the Berkeley Bowl than I’ve ever seen in one place before (Whole Foods included), drove legendary Highway 1 at sunset, noshed on a late night In-N-Out burger – animal style, dove into rich gourmet bowls of mac ‘n cheese at Homeroom, desserted at Tartine, and marveled at the highly technical event that is parallel parking on SF’s steep hills. And so much art – art, and people doing interesting things it was a feast for my brains too.

Thank you, California friends, new and old. The way you brought us so generously into your lives was all of the soul fuel I could’ve asked for. I’m looking for all the reasons I can to make my return and see some more of you soon.

1. Muir Beach Lookout. 2. Awesome logo on a Bay Ferry boat. 3. San Francisco’s literary festival, LitQuake plays hosts to comedian/novelists, David Handler and Andrew Sean Greer. Recap of the event here by my friend Margaret Edith Maggie who also kindly lodged us for a few nights. 4. I got chills seeing this couple unknowingly mimicking a massive Margaret Kilgallen painting at SFMOMA. 5. Woodland elf? Nope, it’s photographer Ben Speckmann in Muir Woods! 6. Lisa Congdon fans my already major lust for Scandianvia with tales her three week solo trip to Iceland, Sweden, and Copenhagen, and how it’s inspired her work. 7 & 8. Lettering inspiration dialed up to 11 at highly traditional custom sign-painting shop Golden West Sign Arts in Berkeley. 9. The ocean was so cold my toenails turned blue! Ah!!! Okay, not really. Just seeing if you were still paying attention.

All photos by me or Chad on iPhones or the Canon S100.