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the builder/product connection

13 Mar

There are oodles of reasons why it would have sucked for me to live in some other era. Not only would I be Mexican (meaning dark-skinned, meaning persona non grata) and have my own troubles, but then there’s the stuff everyone had to deal with: unknown diseases, shortened life spans, rampant rape, boring dances, etc. There was, however, one big reason the past was awesome. IKEA helped me remember this reason.

I had two choices when attempting to furnish my apartment: IKEA or no IKEA. There was really no middle ground. My relationship with the Swedish (& snazzier) Wal-Mart has had its ups and downs: during college IKEA was the place you went to purchase style on the cheap; after college IKEA was where you could potentially spend hundreds of dollars of short-life cutesy shit. When thinking about my apartment’s decor, I decided to take a third route: use IKEA, and not let it use me. Instead of buying a TV stand from them, I recycled some old IKEA stuffs to build one. Rather than buying my desk at this glossy megastore, I created my own desk top (made out of wood and brawn) and incorporated some IKEA table legs, just by themselves. My chalkboard is a re-used IKEA table top covered in chalk paint and drilled onto studs. I don’t love/hate IKEA anymore, I just understand it.

Back to my point. When I finished assembling the aforementioned mish-mash furniture, I felt something tingly inside. It was pride. The work wasn’t as nice-looking as anything the store could offer or a professional could make, but that wasn’t the point. I made it, and that’s why it was beautiful to me. I envisioned and created that desk right there; I decided to convert two shelving units into a bookcase. I did it, not IKEA or some one else. That builder/product connection was missing all those years I was buying stuff from the store (a store that could replaced with any other and produce the same sentiment). During those dark years I was a consumer, nothing more. My interaction with the product was superficial and artificial. Anyone can be a consumer, but not everyone can/is a builder, at least not anymore.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the builder saw his/her product: the tables, the books, the guns, the bread. It’s not even about making something intangible, because consultants and preachers have always existed. It’s all about the pace of work and the distance between the maker and their product. Since the IR these have grown so quickly that they have made a substantial connection nearly impossible. Today, almost all of us work in a position where we will never really be able to see or touch what we are making. Even if we do happen to work in a position where our labor is manifested and at hands’ reach, it passes by so quickly, counted in bulk, that the moment is fleeting. Being so disconnected from our labor is a very recent thing, a tiny percentage out of thousands of years of existence as a species. My guess is we are still reeling from that abrupt tearing away.

My crappy, second-rate work is standing right in front of me. The screws are not totally flush with the rest of the desk, and the stain wasn’t properly applied, but it was all me. That connection can’t be bought or stolen. It can, though be taken for granted. Failing to appreciate that connection between my work and my end-product led me astray…specifically, it got me lost somewhere between showroom sofas and Swedish meatballs.


give it a second–it’s going into space!

1 Mar

We are an app-happy country. These apps, more or less, represent shortcuts. Show me something and I will find an app that lets me do that right now. But eventually, we find the shortcut’s shortcomings. The satisfaction we get from using our apps is short-lived (nice use of ‘short’, eh?). We don’t really stick with any of them for too long because we end up considering them useless. Siri will soon lose its mojo; instagram will quietly fade away. They, like their tiny icons, provide us droplets of glee, which soon melt away. But that will not end our craving them. There’s such a plethora of new options to choose from that these shiny pretty things will be around for a long time.

Is that it? Apps only represent the few hours of lifetime we spend installing and using them? I don’t think so; these creatures taking up megabytes of space in our electronics and in our days are about our addiction to technology. Continue reading

beaten, bloody, & alive

12 Jul

It really makes no sense. No matter which way I look at it, I know I shouldn’t feel tired: I didn’t do shit today. My day began per usual, I got out at 5 (maybe a minute or two after, of course), and my workload could’ve been taken care of by a can of tuna. To be quite frank, I probably spent more time on Facebook, NY Times, and Digg than responding to my work email. That’s because there was NO real work to be done. I was  just warming the seat cushion.


Yet I feel exhausted. My eyes are itchy, my head throbs, and I am a carbo-load away from snoozing on top of my keyboard. The commute home is worse, because I’m not only just “tired,” but anxious. I am playing back my day and feel depressed at how little I did. !?!?!


This has happened to me a little or a lot, depending on what job I had at the time. It was an almost daily occurrence at one particular job, where reading journals online was not enough to fill my days–I ended up writing a short story over the course of one particularly void month. It wasn’t that my genius–ha!–was not being used; it was that I, as a person, was not being used. I was a filler, and I knew it!


Awhile back I took on an extra responsibility. I became a core member of a local political campaign. This was unpaid and in addition to my paid full time job. Some days I would work at my 8-5, then go to a baptist church to staff a campaign booth for 2 hours, then listen to the candidate’s debate performance, and then spend another 2 hours giving him feedback and developing strategy over some beers and fries. I would be working an additional 20 hours a week just on this, for nothing more than a belief in the person I was supporting. I would go home, around midnight, bleary-eyed and truly tired. Before passing out I’d often think, “This feels great.”


The work we all do, day in and day out, is a part of our genetic makeup. It turns us into lethargic nowhere men, or catapult us to an invigorated life. The quality of work that we do is so important to our well-being that that the negative impact of working 20 hours at a soul-killing job would be greater than working 60 hours at an engaging one. We take this for granted, and think that this is as good as it gets. But we’ve all had  a time when we get home, tired and drained, and before succumbing to Morpheus we get a little giddy. Then there’s time where we don’t: we feel restless, frustrated, but drained in the worst way…and we remember tomorrow will be just the same. There’s no way that does not break your body and spirit.

make value

26 May

Will it push the ball forward? Are you making work, or making progress? Pick your cliche, but the gist of our professional–and even personal–existence is value. Introducing, creating, and delivering it.


This isn’t a motto just for work. Our lives are all tied up in value production and destruction. Being a good father brings value to your child’s life; plugging away at work, doing the routine minimum, and feeling our soul shrink a little bit each day destroys value.


We are happier when we are creating something enduring, for ourselves or others. We have been built to build: tables, relationships, organizations, ideas.


Create value today and tomorrow. Our value does not go away when we do. It becomes our legacy.



work and play

24 May

If you were not paid to do your work, would you do it? It’s a very silly thing to think about, without a doubt. Most people would not even answer, but just give a blank stare. You kiddin’ me, dude??


But others wouldn’t. They’d at least give it a thought. They might calculate how much their financial obligations are tied into their job, and consider what not working would do to their life’s flow. It wouldn’t be a losing proposition, just one with some drawbacks.


The question is not silly in itself. It’s only silly when looking at everything else surrounding it. We’ve come to accept work as boring, taxing yet unchallenging, or something else just as unpleasant. Because work is work it demands pay. But does it?


What are some things we do for no pay? Play the guitar, write for our blog (ahem), coach a little league team. Are any of these things easy? No. Can we do any of these things without investing a good deal of time, effort, or attention? No. Yet we do them for no pay at all.


They are freeing. They are challenging. They are purposeful. They are play as much as work. No amount of money is greater than awesome, empowering play.


Some people get to do this on a regular basis. They put countless hours into something that uses their neurons and tendons, but also their hearts. Work and play are indistinguishable. It’s a joy to go to work.


Mark Twain put it simply:


Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.


Ask yourself this: Is pay the only thing keeping me at my job?


If that were to disappear, would you think twice about leaving? If you wouldn’t, then now you know you haven’t played at work. If it doesn’t feel like play, at least even some of the time, you shouldn’t expect bliss…and bliss is priceless.


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